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

—————Looking for faithful answers to life challenging emotional and relational problems?  Contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Pastoral Tele-Counseling Practice today at 740-266-6461 to make an appointment with a faithful, professional, Catholic therapist.


About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • pittsburgh mama

    When I first suspected I had postpartum depression, I got a reference to a Catholic counselor in private practice. I requested couples counseling as I felt the way my husband and I were relating to each other was negatively impacting my depression. His advice was incredibly detrimental to our marriage and we almost separated. He claimed to be Catholic, but openly rejected the Catholic understanding of marriage as “fundamentally unworkable” because it “asked too much” of spouses, and told us our options were to either just put up with what we hated about each other or one of us needed to move out (at one point, he called my asking my husband for help “selfish” because I should be able to provide for all of my own emotional needs.) Interestingly, the secular counselor I/we saw afterwards (reference from my midwife) with was much more willing to accept our faith and work with us within a Catholic framework, and after some time praised us for being willing to accept sacrifices for each other (so we had come a long, long way!)

    I have found a lot of healing in the confessional as well, and several times priests have asked if I have considered or received any additional help. I have not found it demeaning that they ask but rather part of their interest in caring for the good of my soul. I know my experience could have just been the one bad reference out of however many are given, but as a result I do not put much trust in the limited mental health resources available in my area for practicing Catholics. The “Catholic” identifier does not necessarily mean what you’ll get is Catholic, unfortunately.

  • D.Brooks

    Oh, my.
    “In fact, I wish more people were on ADs and anti anxiety medications and in therapy”

    Wow. You only need to look at all of the recent shootings around the country to see that they were all “hopped up” on psychotropic, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors like Prozac, etc. As a nurse, she should know that they’re in the hallucinogen class of drugs. The pharmaceutical insert even says it causes an increase in suicidal thoughts.
    My father, who was relatively healthy before his doctor prescribed him RISPERDAL (risperidone), is now subject to hallucinations because of the medication. He hallucinates if he misses a dose, and hallucinates (although less) when he takes it. “Medications” like these change the chemistry of the brain so that the person permanently becomes a victim to the drug… and will always suffer the damage caused by the drug.
    I would plead with ANYONE, not to let your parent, yourself, or your children poison themselves and destroy their minds with these dangerous, suicide-inducing drugs.

    • Sara

      “As a nurse, she should know they are in the hallucinogen class of drugs”

      This is quite simply incorrect. Yes, there is a “black box” warning (there is one on anti-epileptics as well) because there is always the possibility of increased energy happening before increased mood- in other words, a suicidal person may now have the energy to act on it, or in the specific case of anti-depressants, if a person is diagnosed with depression but is actually bipolar, AD’s can trigger hypomania or mania, or a mixed episode (depression and mania together). But the risk is very small, and much less then the risk of not treating the illness.

      The illness itself causes damage to the brain- this has been shown over and over again. For example, in bipolar disorder, multiple untreated episodes can actually cause loss of grey matter. Medications can reverse some of this damage and promote healing in parts of the brain.

      Sadly, this kind of comment is a typical reaction that those wtih mental illnesses (and even fairly commonly with chronic “physical” illnesses) have to deal with, and why depression so often accompanies any chronic physical illness. I have both mental and physical chronic health problems, and the number of people who think if you wanted to bad enough, you could cure yourself with prayer, diet changes, and alternative medicine is astronomical.

  • Joanne

    D Brooks, you could be correct, but I think it’s more probable that shootings happen because of the psychiatric problems of the shooters, not the meds they are on. Many people are on anti depressants; most don’t go on shooting rampages. Sorry your father isn’t doing well. The hallucinations you describe may or may not be caused by the Risperdal. It’s hard to know what happening in your father’s case without knowing the whole story. But medications are sometimes warranted and worth trying. Doctors don’t have a crystal ball. In your father’s case (perhaps), the trial didn’t go well, but that was impossible to know before it was tried. Risperdal can be extremely important for people. I have seen Risperdal be the difference between someone with major, longstanding psychiatric problems being able to live independently and being committed to a psych facility.