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.
Last week, I asked readers who were struggling with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues to share their experiences with receiving support from the Church and I want to offer my thanks to all who’ve written so far. One person’s email really stood out. I asked her permission to share her thoughts with you anonymously. Here are her reflections.
I saw your post on your blog about seeking help in the Church when you have a mental illness. I have been a Catholic since 2006 and in 2011 was diagnosed with OCD. A new confessor who had heard about 4 of my confessions sent me to a psychiatrist because we were well into major scruples. He is now my spiritual director and main confessor. He has been incredibly supportive in making sure I got help (psychiatrist + therapist) and keeping me going in terms of scruples (such as only allowing me one confession a month vs. every two weeks, telling me to receive Holy Eucharist if I’m “not sure” if I’m in a state of grace, etc).
I have had priests at other parishes in the past say “you sound as if you have OCD” but always in that flippant way. My SD had said “you sound as if you have OCD and I want you to go to a psychiatrist ASAP.”
My parish as a whole has awareness of mental illness, one of our Lenten service projects this year is for the local chapter of NAMI. Each year the parish has a group that participates in the NAMI Walk, which our Monsignor participates in (I believe).
Catholics “in the pews” tend to be very silent about mental illness and at times it is awkward. I have told a few people about my OCD and have had mostly ‘brush-off’ reactions or a frustration when I get caught up in compulsions. I think there is a lot ignorance in the pews, with the standard “you need more faith/prayer/etc” or ‘I thought good Catholics didn’t get depressed.’ (yes, I’ve heard that which blows my mind!). I have had to drop out of a mother’s prayer group because of OCD and have felt as if the group appreciates that I’m gone. The people who I had counted on for support have done the exact opposite. Thus I feel as if I can’t ever tell more people as the majority act as if I’m contagious or “not faithful enough”.
All the priests at my parish know of my OCD and are incredibly supportive, cheering me on as I work my way through therapy. The people in the pews, not so much.
What is your experience of being a Catholic struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental/emotional health challenges? Write me at gpopcak@CatholicCounselors.com