Catholics and Mental Illness: Are we doing enough? The Conversation Continues…

St. Dymphna, Patroness of Mental Health, Pray for Us.

Research tends to show that Christians–especially pastors– struggle to know how to support those struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.  Catholics tend to fare a little better than evangelicals in this regard (because we tend to be less suspicious of psychotherapy), but it tends to be a mixed bag.

As part of Faith on the Couch’s ongoing look into how well we, as Catholics, support those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, I wanted to share some of the comments that I have received so far.  What is your experience?  Do you or a loved one struggle with mental or emotional challenges?  Please share your story as a way to encourage others both to draw support from our Catholic faith and to do a better job as Catholics of supporting those who struggle.

Joanne  shares:  “that taking medicine shows a lack of trust in God to heal me.”

I’ve had lifelong problems with depression and anxiety. The impression I often get is that religious people believe that if one has anxiety, one simply doesn’t have enough faith. After all, we’re not supposed to have anxiety about anything, but simply faith in God. As far as I’m concerned, however, the two (anxiety and faith in God) are not mutually exclusive. Depression and anxiety are organic disorders of the brain; unless God sees fit to grant us a faith healing, we will continue to have D+A, regardless of how deep our faith is. The misinformation among religious people vis-a-vis mental illness has been a real source of discouragement for me. A few years ago, I discontinued my subscription to a very well known Catholic publication because I found their reporting on mental illness to be almost dangerously ignorant. Just for everyone’s information, I’m a nurse and my impression is NOT that doctors “dole out” anti-depressants in a cavalier manner. In fact, I wish more people were on ADs and anti anxiety medications and in therapy – we’d probably have alot fewer people with substance abuse and obesity issues. Ironically, MDs prescribe countless blood pressure and diabetes meds – doctors probably actually could prescribe fewer of these if people took better care of themselves, but for some reason, religious people never seem to have any complaints about these meds being prescribed.

Everyone should pray. We should pray to praise God and to thank Him and to show trust in him. And I believe that spirituality has beneficial effects on mental and probably even physical health. However, one cannot pray one’s self out of mental illness anymore than one can pray one’s self out of Parkinsons, arthritis, pancreatitis, or gout.

—Janice writes…

I am a Catholic with AD/HD. I also work in special education in the public schools. From my perspective I think most Americans have a suspicious attitude towards mental illness. However, in the culture at large there may be more pockets of those who are compassionate and open towards those diagnosed with a disorder. I think that lay Catholics in general mistrust psychology and view it as a way for people to avoid responsibility for my actions.

The most supportive people in my life, in terms of disclosing the fact that I have AD/HD, have been non-Catholics. That is my experience. I really haven’t come across any Catholic that hasn’t been made uncomfortable when I mention that I have AD/HD. In all honesty, I try to tell people about the fact that I have AD/HD in order to avoid misunderstandings and to let them know that I am working on myself and taking responsibility but they often see it as the opposite. I had one Catholic friend who tried to tell me that I didn’t have AD/HD despite the fact that I struggled with social anxiety, depression and underachievement for years. I have stopped talking about it in general but it feels very isolating to not be able to share something that is a really big part of my life right now. I was actually excited to find out because it explained so much, help me reach greater acceptance and move beyond self-loathing. But in the end America has a love affair with accountability and I don’t share my insights with AD/HD unless they are not Catholic and they have some openness towards understanding to mental illness.

What is your story?  If you or a loved one struggles with mental/emotional challenges, how has your Catholic faith or faith community been a help or hindrance to you?   Share your comments here, or email me privately at

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