Since 1949, May has been known as mental health awareness month across the United States. During the month, organizations and individuals work to raise awareness of mental health issues through fighting stigma, providing support, educating the public, and advocating for policies that support people and families struggling with mental illness. According to the Surgeon General, one in every five Americans experiences a mental disorder in any given year and half of all Americans have such disorders at some time in their lives. These illnesses of the brain affect all of us, regardless of age, gender, economic status or ethnicity. Nearly every person sitting in the pews has been touched in some way by mental illness.
At the state level, the California Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter on May 2 titled, “Hope and Healing: A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of California on Caring for those who Suffer from Mental Illness Addressed to All Catholics and People of Goodwill, which details a number of scientific and medical studies in an effort to “build bridges between science and religion, health care and pastoral care.”
With the publication of the letter, the California Catholic Conference joins just three other Catholic state conferences who have issued pastoral statements on mental health: New York, West Virginia, and Nebraska. Saint Christopher Parish youth minister and co-chair of the Mental Health Ministry Network, Mr. Chris Miller, served on the consulting team for the letter. Miller states “it was a great experience to work with a number of experts in the field of mental health. I applaud the Bishops in the state, including our own Bishop McGrath, for their support and commitment to those struggling with mental health challenges.”
Here in the Diocese of San Jose, the Mental Health Ministry Network hosted a three-part series on mental health. Titled Shalom Sundays, the events were held at Santa Teresa Parish, and included speakers from NAMI, the mental health community, the County of Santa Clara, and from the Diocese of San Jose, and was funded by a generous grant from the Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County.
The first event brought together Ruth Ann Auten, private practitioner, and Kathy Forward, Executive Director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) who both spoke about mental health 101 and the services that are available to family members, care takes, and those struggling with mental illness.
The second event brought together Santa Teresa parishioner Rich Berryessa and Mego Lien from Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Department. Rich Berryessa spoke about finding God in all things, even mental illness. Lien provided a QPR gatekeeper training, teaching attendees how to Question, Persuade, and Refer in support of someone who may be suicidal.
The third and final event brought together Holy Spirit parishioner Lisa Ayala and Saint Christopher parish youth minister Chris Miller, who both spoke of their first-hand experiences of fear, faith, and finding hope in mental illness.