A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines (Mental Health America). One in four families will at some time have to cope with mental illness and its effects on a loved one and the family unit. Do people with mental illness feel welcome in my parish? The stigma attached to mental illness forces many to hide the severity of their symptoms or those of a loved one. Many stop coming to church due to the stigma. Stigma is the single greatest barrier to people getting effective treatment. Leaders of a parish, diocese, or other Catholic organizations can fight stigma by learning the signs of mental illness and reaching out to those living with the illness. Is recovery possible? People can and do recover from mental illness.
Recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life, to be a member of a community despite the continuing challenges of living with a mental illness. Recovery can be thought of as a table with four legs. All four legs must be whole, strong and firmly attached for recovery to take hold. This depends on access to help that includes the four legs of recovery.
The Four Legs of Recovery
1. BIOLOGICAL— since this is an illness of the brain, good medical care and often medication are needed.
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL— to ensure a lasting recovery, help is needed with understanding the effects of the disease along with assistance with the stresses of life.
3. SOCIAL— the presence of friends, family, acquaintances and other meaningful relationships is vital.
4. SPIRITUAL— belief, prayer and a welcoming community of faith help the individual to know the love and grace of God is essential and available.
The coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders were previously referred to as dual diagnoses. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) approximately 8.2 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders in 2016.
People with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience substance use disorder, commonly known as addiction (e.g. alcoholism, heroin addiction). Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose due to the complexity of symptoms, as they may vary in severity. In many cases, people receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains untreated. This may occur because both mental and substance use disorders can have biological, psychological, and social components.
Other factors may include inadequate provider training or screening, an overlap of symptoms, or the need to first address other health issues. In any case, the consequences of undiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated co-occurring disorders can lead to a higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, medical illnesses, suicide, or even early death.
People with co-occurring disorders are best served through integrated treatment by professionals. With integrated treatment, practitioners can address mental and substance use disorders at the same time, often lowering costs and creating better outcomes. Increasing awareness and building capacity in service systems are important in helping identify and treat co-occurring disorders. Early detection and treatment can improve outcomes and the quality of life for those who need these services.
Since each individual’s path to recovery differs, packages of treatments and supportive services for mental and substance use disorders should be tailored to fit individual needs. For many people with behavioral health conditions (mental illness or addiction), the most effective approach often involves a combination of modalities including counseling, medication, supportive services, such as case or care management, and family education. Mutual support groups including 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Dual Diagnosis Anonymous (DDA) can also play an important role in promoting health and recovery.
SAMHSA’s National Survey On Drug Use and Health
(2016 data - search NSDUH at www.samhsa.gov for additional stats.)
While not every Catholic Charities agency provides behavioral health services, almost 70% provide some type of treatment and support to individuals and families suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. Catholic Charities agencies provide over two million sessions to almost 300,000 clients every year. Services range from counseling and medication management to residential treatment and trauma-informed care. Many programs have specialized culturally-competent services for immigrants and refugees.
Seeking to meet the needs of the whole person and of the family unit, Catholic Charities is focusing its energies on developing integrated physical health and behavioral health services, and is partnering with other providers to help clients establish a holistic approach to meet all of their needs.
To find a Catholic Charities agency near you, please call Catholic Charities USA at 703-549-1390 or write to email@example.com.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34 in the U.S. (CDC). However, studies have shown that belonging to a faith community can be a protective factor against suicide. Parishes and other Catholic organizations can work collaboratively to make the causes of suicide more fully understood, support the identification and care of those most at risk, and provide support and consolation to the families and friends of those bereaved by suicide. Check these links for resources to help Catholic parishes and organizations develop suicide prevention strategies: www.ncpd.org/mental-illness https://afsp.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org www.VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat
Every person has a fundamental right to those things required for human decency. A major theme of Catholic social teaching is that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.
From Seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
To defend the dignity of individuals with mental illness, advocacy efforts are needed in the following areas:
Faith Community – Acceptance and socialization in one’s faith community is key to a greater awareness of God’s love. Being an active part of the faith community deepens one’s spirituality and gives hope and support to people who may at times feel disconnected from the community due to a mental illness. If a person feels rejected by their church they may often feel rejected by God. When a faith community accepts the person for who they are, the faith community reflects God’s unconditional love for all of us.
Employment – Employment is a key not only to economic stability, but to a person’s well-being, sense of purpose, self-esteem and the ability to contribute in the work environment. Opportunities for supportive employment must be made available so that people can make the transition to full recovery.
Language – Every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Using language that recognizes the person rather than the condition acknowledges their dignity and value.
Criminal Justice – Lack of mental health services often leads to unnecessary and inappropriate incarceration for minor crimes. Concentrated efforts should be taken to: (1) ensure the availability within local police forces of crisis intervention teams; (2) ensure that adequate and properly trained legal representation is available for persons with mental illness; (3) ensure that jails and prison systems provide mental health services, both for assessment and treatment, including access to adequate medication, and discharge to recovery programs; (4) eliminate the death penalty; and (5) create diversion programs that provide treatment instead of incarceration.
Housing – Lack of affordable housing poses a major problem, since a person living with mental illness may rely on disability financial assistance, or may be unable to work or obtain a job with a decent wage. Advocacy efforts must concentrate on ensuring that there are comprehensive services and affordable housing options that permit people to live in the community and that also address the high prevalence of homelessness.
Health Care – Proper diagnosis, medication, and an appropriate range of community psychological rehabilitation support services will deliver cost-effective results. As with treatment of cancer, early intervention and treatment of mental illness is key to favorable outcomes. A major health care concern is the shortage of mental healthcare professionals.