August 22, 2017

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Mental Health Network

The Diocese of San Diego is inviting Catholics to imagine a world where mental illness has lost its stigma – and to help bring that world into being.

“The ultimate goal is to create parishes where anyone marginalized by mental illness in any way is fully included in the life of the Church,” explained Kent Peters, director of the diocesan Office for Social Ministry.

The San Diego Diocesan Mental Health Ministry Network has been created to accomplish that goal.

Peters, whose office established the network with the guidance of a Mental Health Working Group, said churches of various denominations for the past decade have been working to better accommodate those with mental illness.

But the Diocese of San Diego is doing something revolutionary.

“This is the first attempt to bring it together and try to offer it to an entire diocese,” Peters explained. “There’s no playbook for this. We’re creating a playbook.”

At the cornerstone of the Diocesan Mental Health Ministry Network is the formation of ministry teams at each parish who will serve as “prayerful companions” for fellow parishioners experiencing mental illness, provide them with referrals, walk with them through the treatment process, and provide parish-wide education on the subject of mental illness.

“If that’s done well,” said Peters, “we can really turn the parish into a place where people are not afraid to talk about mental illness” – similar to how parishes have successfully accommodated those with seeing and hearing impairments, as well as other challenges.

Peters emphasized that parish ministry teams will not be taking on the roles of psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. They will simply be supplying “Christian love, prayer and true human connections” – in other words, the “Catholic spiritual component” that is often left out in the treatment of mental illness.

“We will offer Christ-centered care, compassion, presence, listening, referring and support,” Peters said. “We have people who will be befriending others and assisting them in their walk with mental illness.”

Mental health conferences have been offered to both clergy and laity. About 60 priests and deacons attended the clergy luncheon on Oct. 23, and more than 270 laity attended the conference held on Nov. 15.

Some 14 parishes have already agreed to be part of the Mental Health Ministry Network, and an additional 11 parishes are currently in discernment.

Peters said, “We could be upwards of 25 percent of the parishes doing this within a year.”

From Jan. 15 through the end of March, Peters said, the Social Ministry Office staff and members of the Mental Health Working Group will be leading workshops at every parish interested in becoming part of the network. These workshops will include the screening of a short video, a reflection on the diocesan vision for the network, and discussion of the qualifications and responsibilities expected of parish mental health ministry team members.

Those who feel called to the ministry will be invited to fill out an application. Their pastor will select the members of the team and appoint its leadership.

In April and May, the parishes will be assembling their teams, Peters said, and those teams will attend a full-day training session in June. After that, they will be commissioned during Masses at their parishes and soon commence their ministry.

The Mental Health Working Group, which played such a pivotal role in the formation of the network, will be reconstituted as a diocesan commission that will help manage the network.

For too long, people have seen the Church as “a place … where you show up when things are right,” Peters said, and those affected by mental illness “often feel alienated and walk away from the faith.”

But, he said, the Church is a community that all are invited to join.

“Anytime there’s pain and suffering that Christians can be involved to alleviate, it’s the Matthew 25 mandate,” Peters explained, referring to the scriptural verses teaching that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and visit those in prison, we are doing those things for Jesus Himself.

“I think we’re ready for an explosion of the Holy Spirit around this issue [of mental illness],” Peters said, “to make us more human and more real about being there for our neighbors and our fellow parishioners.”

For more information, contact the Office for Social Ministry at (858) 490-8323 or via e-mail.

Mental Health Wellness from Nathan Leon on Vimeo.

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