Catholic Bishop of Auckland Stephen Lowe says it’s estimated that half to 80 per cent of New Zealanders will experience some form of mental distress, addiction challenges or both in their lifetimes.
“Mental illness is a major issue which touches every family in some way. And yet we don’t talk about it nearly enough,” says Bishop Lowe, who also is Vice President and Secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference.
Because of these issues, the country’s Catholic bishops are urging everyone to reflect on mental illness and its consequences for individuals, families and communities as they prepare to mark Support Life Sunday 2022 on 9 October.
“The bishops want to highlight the needs of many in our community and affirm everyone who works in the mental health area,” Bishop Lowe says.
This year’s parish resources for Support Life Sunday include a social media campaign that highlights critical facts about mental illness and features quotes from people living with a mental illness or caring for someone who is mentally ill.
As in past years, the bishops’ Nathaniel Centre for bioethics has prepared the resources for Support Life Sunday. Dr John Kleinsman, the centre’s director, says it is important that this campaign amplifies the voices of people who have first-hand experience of mental illness.
“By making mental health a focus, we hope to further break down and lessen the stigma and discrimination which still surrounds mental illness and encourage more open and honest conversations,” says Dr Kleinsman.
Dr Kleinsman says it’s fortuitous Support Life Sunday’s focus on mental illness follows directly from this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which ran from 26 September to 2 October and took as its theme the importance of reconnecting with uplifting people and places.
“Our schools and faith communities should be places of positive connection that lift people up and we want to encourage people to reflect on the extent to which that is the case, as well as ways of becoming more supportive, uplifting and inclusive,” Dr Kleinsman said.
Bishop Lowe says people with mental health issues deserve to get the professional care they need. “But we also know that a loving and supportive school or parish, alongside a prayerful trust in the presence and power of a loving God who walks with us through even the darkest of times, can have a significant positive impact on a person’s well-being and be an important part of their journey with mental illness.”
Support Life Sunday 2022’s resources include reflection questions for parish leadership teams and ways to examine consciences for individuals and groups, with a view to parishes becoming more purposeful in responding to mental illness.
Bishop Lowe says overseas research highlights that stigma and fears surrounding mental illness means people living with mental illnesses are less likely to get the level of pastoral care provided for people with physical illnesses: “We need to celebrate what we are already doing well in our schools and parishes to help people with mental health issues, but we must also realise that we can and need to do better as faith communities in acknowledging mental illness and accompanying people with it. It’s all about putting into action our core belief in the unconditional dignity of the human person.”
Parishes are encouraged to start the social media campaign from Monday 3 October.
Footnote: Parish and school resources for Support Life Sunday 2022 are here.