When one faces a physical ailment, usually they seek out a physician’s care to help heal their broken bone or alleviate their flu symptoms. Sickness is often associated with the physical rather than the mental, so does this mean that Jesus as the Divine Physician only heals our physical diseases? The Catholic Church would answer of course not! But, then why does our country have an apparent fear of mental ailments?
In the United States today, one in five adults lives with mental illness. Out of these 44.7 million people, 4.2% are struggling with serious mental illness. Out of these, 56% do not seek out or have access to any kind of treatment. The youth of America face an even more intense crisis; a whopping 49.5% of adolescents aged 13-18 struggle with a mental disorder, with 1.7 million not receiving treatment for depression. 25% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder which can affect school performance, ability to make friends, and ability to focus. A glance at social media sheds a frightening light on this crisis as teenagers seem to playfully mention devastating issues like suicide in a shrouded cry for help.
In May 2017, one user wrote: “if u had a bad day don’t worry at least u r still one day closer to death.”
On the social media site Tumblr, a blogger shared a picture of the popular cartoon character SpongeBob lying in bed with a tired expression. The caption read, “Me trying to decide if I want to go to school or kill myself.”
In August of 2018, a user tweeted “Do people with anxiety realize how emotionally and mentally exhausting they can be for the people around them?” In the replies, another wrote “Yes, that’s why 90% of my life I’ve suffered alone and in silence, behind closed doors.”
Why is it that death has become the desired solution for so many people? Why do our hurting brothers and sisters feel so alone in their struggles? The answer, in part, lies in statistics. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 68% of people would not want someone with mental illness marrying into their family while 58% do not want a mentally ill person in their workplace. As a result, many of those struggling with mental health are afraid their disorder will result in discrimination, judgment and distrust.
In November of 1996 addressing the International Conference for Health Care Workers, Saint Pope John Paul II made it clear to society that we must recognize the dignity present in all, especially those struggling with mental illness. “Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being. In addition, he always has the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such.” His words challenge us; when we encounter someone in the throes of a panic attack, in the depths of depression, or in the confusion of a breakdown, do we meet them with judgment? Or, do we recognize their being made in God’s image and likeness? During these moments, the words found in Matthew 25:45 speak volumes; “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
In September of 2017, Pope Francis revealed in a book-length interview with Dominique Wolton that he himself sought psychological counseling at the age of 42 as the head of his Jesuit order in Argentina. “At a certain point, I felt the need to consult an analyst,” he said. “For six months, I went to her house once a week to clarify a few things. She was a doctor and psychoanalyst. She was always there.” (telegraph.co.uk)
The human mind is a great gift that differentiates us from other forms of creation, but this does not mean it does not encounter hardships throughout life. Pope Francis shows us that it is normal to honor our sacred creation by ensuring our health and well being.
Jesus, the Divine Physician, is one who can heal all wounds, including those of the spirit and of the mind. When we approach our neighbors in need of mercy, compassion, understanding, and love, we best reflect Christ in answering this call with an open heart rather than with coldness and misunderstanding. It is important to know not only that we are called to treat those struggling with mental health with empathy, but also that our own internal issues, great or small, are valid and worthy of healing.
As we encounter our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves each day, let us always be open to mercy and love. As Catholics, we recognize the power of prayer. St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental afflictions, intercedes for us as we seek understanding, love, and compassion.
Prayer to St. Dymphna:
Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need. (Mention it.) Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to them for me and obtain my request.
(Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be.)
Saint Dymphna, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out. You are not alone. 1-800-273-8255