The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

The theme of Day for Life 2008 centred on mental well-being. Here’s the message that the bishops released for the day.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit”
Psalm 34, 18

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 Britain and Ireland 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 Church’s 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 brokenhearted

Jesus comes to bring sight to the blind and light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Much of Jesus’ earthly 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 person’s 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