Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Mental Health for Catholics

I think that as Catholics and Christians we are afraid to own up to mental health issues: anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.  It's daunting by its very nature, and because we feel the responsibility to be the face of Christ to the world, we may think that we have no right to complain, much less admit a weakness.  After all, aren't we supposed to be happy?  It obviously means you just haven't prayed enough/found peace in your life/accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, right?


If Jesus Himself could agonize in the garden, I think it's safe to say that "lesser beings" can expect their fair share of trauma.  After all, Jesus didn't promise us that we'd be always happy if we followed Him.  He promised us eternal happiness, and a peace that surpasses understanding.  And that can look very different from what the world commonly calls "happy."

That said, I've noticed a peculiar sort of "Catholic mindset" when it comes to mental health issues.  I'm not an expert, but I wanted to put these things out there for consideration.  I know I've learned a lot of the following the hard way in my life and wish someone had approached me with them.

Remember, always consult your doctor or a professional before making any major life changes.

1 // Don't use religion as a crutch.

I still have difficulty sometimes seeing when I am manipulating my faith to do or not do something that I want.  It's why it's good to have a trusted spiritual director, therapist, or healthy friend to talk things over with (see #4).

One (extreme) example of this would be staying in an abusive relationship because of Catholic teaching on divorce.  It's hard to give more subtle examples because faith and our daily functioning are so nuanced and personal.  I just try to ask myself, "Am I doing this because I really do care to about my faith or because I'm looking for an excuse to avoid dealing with the real issues?"

2 // Distance the people that hurt and don't help.

I know you want to balk at that.  I still do.  It sounds so mean.  Opposite of what we're supposed to do as Christians, right?  To be nice and love everybody?  How can we make excuses to reject people?

Here's the thing: God made you you, and nobody else.  That means you have a special responsibility to yourself.  And if other people are detrimental to that most important of responsibilities, after trying reasonably to make it work, you are completely justified in limiting contact, or even cutting them off.

Let me say that again:

You are completely justified in cutting off the people whose relationships are poisonous to you.

That doesn't make you a bad Christian.  Just a smart one.

3 // Take care of yourself.

Again, to those raised in a Christianity-saturated environment, this might set off alarm bells that they are a hair's breadth from hell due to sloth and wicked indulgence.  There is a difference between being selfish and reaching your finite human limits.  Know them.  Embrace them.  Honor them.  Don't let other people shame you into thinking you are being lazy and selfish and a bad Christian.  Remember Jesus stopped his preaching and His work and went up to the mountain to rest in prayer.

4 // Talk to someone.

If you keep things from airing out, you're likely to suffocate.  Sin and evil can't live in the light.  The truth shall set you free.  Speak up.  If all the people you know are too close to your situation, or if you feel worse after talking to them, find someone else--someone you don't know, but someone who will listen and care.  Talk to a priest, a minister, a therapist.  Go to Confession or schedule an appointment.

What do you think?  Are Catholics and Christians in general harder on themselves when it comes to mental health?  Do you have any other advice for navigating the treacherous waters of life and mental illness?


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