Decembers Topic - Mental Health
Mental Health. It’s an issue we hear about often. On the one hand this is good, as people need to know that when we’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or some other psychological condition it’s important to get help, just like we’d get help for pneumonia or diabetes. But it’s sad as well, because many people, including teens and young adults, suffer from various conditions which negatively affect them and those around them.
Depression, for example, has reached epidemic proportions in our society. It’s the single greatest cause of absenteeism at work or school. It’s virtually certain that you or someone you know - someone in your family, a friend, a fellow student or co-worker – is suffering from depression at this very moment. By depression we don’t mean just feeling down, sad, or tired. Everyone has these feelings from time to time, it’s a natural part of life. I’m talking about a medical condition called clinical depression.
Anxiety, as well, is rampant. The difference between fear and anxiety is that fear has a definite object – when I’m in the same room with a tiger, I fear the tiger. Anxiety is generalized fear without a particular object: “What if. . .?” “What will they think. . .?” “He might . . ., she might . . ., I might. . .,” etc.
Eating disorders are also common, especially among women. They are extremely dangerous, and have the highest mortality rate among all psychological illnesses.
If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or is contemplating suicide, it’s important to talk about it. Everyone needs a “go-to adult,” an aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or priest who they trust completely, and with whom they can talk openly. Don’t be afraid to see (or encourage them to see) a doctor, and try to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible, as the psychiatrist will have more experience and available resources to deal with the situation.
Both the medical literature as well as pastoral experience confirm that religious faith and practice are very helpful in dealing with mental illness. Being connected to the Church both spiritually and socially helps protect us from psychological problems in the first place, and helps us overcome them more quickly if they do appear. Prayer, worship, and participation in the sacramental life of the Church have a very positive effect on our inward, psychological state if we let them.
What causes mental illness? There is no simple answer. It might be hereditary, but usually results from a combination of biological, psychological, and social elements. Traumatic events, like the death of someone we dearly love or breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, divorce, losing our job, etc. can result in depression. Other factors which can contribute to mental illness include single motherhood, not completing high school, being bullied, living off social assistance, living alone, smoking, the use of drugs, and heavy drinking. People who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse are also prone to higher levels of mental illness.
On the other hand there are behaviours and activities which foster good mental health. Remaining chaste (i.e., not engaging in pre-marital sexual activity), not using drugs, not abusing alcohol, doing well in school, having healthy friendships, good family relationships, and being active physically are all beneficial. As already mentioned, religious faith and practice also have a positive effect in lowering our chances of becoming mentally unwell, as well as helping us overcome mental illness if it does strike.
God has given us medical knowledge, He has given us spiritual knowledge, and He has given us love – His love, as well as the love of good friends and family. By humbly accepting and making use of all these gifts we can help prevent the appearance of mental illness in our lives and the lives of those we love, and more quickly overcome it if it does appear.
Please feel free to forward any topics or questions you might have and I’ll do my best to respond in upcoming issues of the newsletter.
- Fr. Bohdan Hladio