The Catholic Church in Ireland marked the Day for Life’ 2008 on Sunday, 5 October, with a Pastoral Letter addressing mental health.

See below – full text of Pastoral Letter + Directions re Helplines (‘Need to Talk?’ intiative)
Click on link to access other Day for Life 2008 resources including videos

Commentary on Pastoral Letter

The Pastoral, jointly published by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, has been distributed nationwide

The Day for Life is marked annually. Each year it highlights an aspect of the Church’s awareness of the sacredness of human life. The Day for Life this year focuses attention on the issue of mental health and, in particular, on needs of those affected by mental ill-health, their family, friends, and carers. It also acknowledges the support which the parish community and the professional services can bring to those affected.

According to Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, “The Church’s annual Day for Life message seeks to highlight the value and sacredness of human life and the care which everyone in society should show for one another. Feedback from the 2004 Day for Life theme Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide clearly indicated the need for a more widespread awareness of the importance of mental health in society as a whole. Accordingly the Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh bishops have chosen the theme of mental health this year.

The Pastoral Letter notes:

“The person in your parish community who may be suffering today is the young mum with post-natal depression, the local businessman with stress, your own parish priest, the man who has recently lost his wife to cancer or the young person who has lost faith in life, as well as someone with an obvious, severe and enduring mental illness.”

Bishop Fleming said; “Our key message is twofold: nobody is immune for mental ill health and, in the interest of the common good, every citizen has a responsibility to promote, directly or otherwise, the mental health of all the members of our society and of our local communities. We can do this by being vigilant about promoting the mental health of those around us while not neglecting our own in the process.”

Bishop Fleming continued, “As the Pastoral suggests, none of us should take our mental health for granted. No walk of life is immune from experiencing mental health difficulties in different and varying degrees, for example: parents, young people, employees/employers, mental health practitioners themselves, clergy, and people who have experienced bereavement etc.” In particular he noted that, “as a society, we have yet to remove the lingering stigma which is sometimes attached to mental ill-health. We need to jettison the taboo around discussing the issue, and our discussions ought to be non-judgmental.”

“As part of our preparations for the Pastoral Letter we were fortunate to have received support from mental health practitioners and I would like to thank, in particular, Professor Sheila Hollins, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatry in London, and the Rev Dr Tony Byrne and Sister Kathleen Maguire of the Awareness Education Office in Cabra, for their generous help and expertise.”

Bishop Fleming concluded, “In the Gospels Christ shows His constant care for those who labour and who are overburdened’. In so doing so, in particular, He assures us of His deep care for those who suffer from problems relating to mental health. By turning to Him in faith and prayer, miracles of grace and healing are often worked for those who suffer from ill health. Prayerful support of those who care about the mental health of every member of the community also assists in this great work of Christian concern. On the Day for Life 2008 we are offered an opportunity to reflect on and take stock of the issue of mental health in our society.”

Since 2001, the following themes have been chosen to celebrate the Catholic Church’s annual Day for Life’:

2001: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life
2002: End of Life Care – Ethical and Pastoral Issues
2003: The Wonder of Life – celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II
2004: Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide
2005: Cherishing the Evening of Life
2006: Celebrating the life and presence of people with disabilities in the Church and in society
2007: Blessed is the fruit of your womb – dedicated to protecting all human life
2008: Mental Health – Mental ill-health can happen to anyone

Full Text of Pastoral Letter

Click on links to download Day for Life 2008 Pastoral

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit
(Psalm 34)

I invite you to pray for those with mental health difficulties: that they are not placed on the margins,but treated with respect and lovingly supported as they live their life with dignity.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVIs Prayer Intentions for 2008

Mental ill-health can happen to anyone

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some stage in their life. Millions of people across Ireland and Britain are either living with or know someone close to them who has been affected by depression, schizophrenia, suicide, self-harm, bereavement, substance misuse or mental health difficulties at some stage in their lives. Day for Life the day in the Churchs year dedicated to celebrating the sacredness of life will focus this year on the theme of mental health. It will help raise awareness of the needs of those affected by mental ill-health, their friends, their family and their carers, and the support that the parish community can bring.

Christ is very close to the broken-hearted

Jesus comes to bring sight to the blind and light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Much of Jesusearthly ministry was to those who were oppressed by mental illness. Increasingly it is understood that spirituality has an important role in healing; people in distress can find a renewed purpose and meaning in their lives when they recognise how much they are valued in the eyes of God the Father. While Christian faith does not offer an instant cure to mental illness, it can mark the beginning of a journey of healing. Christ brings those living on the margins of society back into the heart of the community.

Understanding mental health problems

There is no true health without mental health. Good mental health helps us to enjoy life and to face the disappointments, pain and sadness which we will all inevitably experience at some stage in our lives. Illness is generally a time of spiritual need and very often challenges us in our faith, our hope and our love. It takes great courage to be able to appreciate life in the midst of human suffering. The experience of mental illness is particularly distressing as it may deprive someone of the ability to direct their own lives.

So what can parishes do?

Both those who are affected by mental illness and their carers often experience isolation and rejection. The person in your parish community who may be suffering today is the young mum with post-natal depression, the local businessman with stress, your own parish priest, the man who has recently lost his wife to cancer or the young person who has lost faith in life, as well as someone with an obvious, severe and enduring mental illness. Offering the hand of friendship is a crucial step towards a persons recovery. We need to be able to acknowledge and talk about mental health problems and be able to invite people into our communities, especially those who are frequently left on the margins. We all need a willingness to listen, to be open and not fearful of what someone might say or do.

The majority of people with a mental illness get better or learn to manage their symptoms in daily life. The parish community has a very important role to play in accompanying people as they journey towards recovery.

Practical Actions

Home-centred care

Offer a listening ministry
Ensure that the Eucharist is brought to those who are housebound or in hospital
Pray
Find out how the parish can help, no matter how small the need is: Someone walked to Mass with me every day

Parish-centred care

Welcome and, where appropriate, involve those with mental health difficulties at the Sunday liturgy
Mention those oppressed by mental illness and their carers in the prayers of intercession
Arrange spiritual support for those affected and their carers
Recognise the contribution of Catholic doctors, nurses and chaplains

Community-focused care

Keep our churches open as much as possible as places of prayer and of peace
Encourage community groups to use church facilities for meetings
Build positive links with mental health services
Link with other Christian denominations and other faiths

Helplines

Need to Talk?

Along with the nationally produced leaflet promoting Day for Life 2008, in Kildare & Leighlin, we are also re-issuing a supply of wallet-size Need to Talk? cards

The Need to Talk? initiative, launched by the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin in November 2007, was prompted by our growing concern about the levels of self-destructive behaviour in Irish society. This initiative is an expression of our care for the whole community, not limited to any particular group.

The diocese shares the concern, reflected in many studies, that all too often people experiencing a personal crisis do not avail of any professional help. There is a need both to provide information and to promote a culture of support around accessing appropriate services. Our message is that asking for help is a real strength.

Wallet Card

The two services featured on our Need to Talk? card are –

Samaritans

1850-609090 (24 hours) jo@samaritans.org

providing confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.

Aware

1890-303302 http://www.aware.ie/

Providing support and assistance to people whose lives are affected by depression

A mobile phone text service is also now available to facilitate people seeking information on mental health and/or for those looking for support.
Text the word HeadsUp to 50424. This HeadsUp text service is organised by RehabCare.

Click on link to complate listing of our ‘Need to Talk’ helplines