Mental illness is an issue that affects many people in a variety of ways. And it not only affects the person who is ill, but those who are close to them as well. Recognizing how mental illness affects the lives of so many – and how little support there can be for those suffering – the California bishops recently released a pastoral letter titled, Hope and Healing on caring for those who suffer from mental illness.
The letter is addressed to Catholics and all people of goodwill, and encourages all people to care for and meet the needs of those who suffer from mental illness. The letter also stresses the importance of not judging or stigmatizing those who suffer from mental illness, and the need for healthcare professionals and scientific researchers to work with the Church to improve mental health care.
Dr. Aaron Kheriarty, director of the Bioethics Program at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, recently discussed the bishops’ pastoral letter with Sheila Liaugminas on A Closer Look™.
“I think this message speaks to every human heart,” Kheriarty said on the message of Hope and Healing. As a healthcare professional himself, he expressed his appreciation that the Church recognizes the need to work with mental health professionals to help heal the wounds and lift the burdens that mental illness can bring.
“The reason it’s so important to take that holistic approach is human beings are a unified whole,” Kheriarty said. “So we can splice and dice things up, but after we’ve done that and looked at a problem from those different perspectives – biological, psychological, social, and spiritual – we have to step back and also remember we’re not talking about four different types of problems. We’re talking about one person who is a complex whole. And if we attend to the person, from all those perspectives, with a both/and rather than an either/or approach to healing, the healing is going to be much more complete. It’s going to be more effective.”
Kheriarty pointed out that the bishops struck a delicate balance in their letter, which is a helpful approach for both the religious and the secular. He explained that sometimes there is a desire to only look at the medical side of mental illness, and expect medication alone to bring about complete healing. While on the other hand, some people of faith will focus solely on the spiritual side, ignoring medical or psychological problems and attempting to heal themselves by praying more.
“It’s possible to sort of go wrong in both directions,” Kheriarty said. “And what the bishops are saying in this letter is let’s work together here. Let’s bring our areas of expertise – whether those are medical, psychological, psychiatric, pastoral – let’s bring those together and coordinate care for people. So that people feel cared for, and loved, and assisted in all those different ways. If we do that, then the outcomes are going to be much better than if we just put people simplistically into a box that only allows us to see one part, rather than seeing the whole.”
Kheriarty was joined on A Closer Look by his colleague, Dr. Frances Broghammer, who is a resident physician at University of California Irvine. Broghammer also expressed her appreciation of the bishops’ pastoral letter.
“It’s a call to action for everyone – the families involved, the parishes, the entire community at large – to be able to be a source of this hope and healing for these patients when they are in this altered state and they can’t find it for themselves,” she said.
“As we know, when there are people who are rooted in faith, and this is part of their identity, they lose it during this time period,” Broghammer continued. “It’s an important idea that we as a community can be a source of this for them when they can’t find it, and how important that can be to repairing the person as a whole.”
Sheila Liaugminas echoed Broghammer’s sentiment that the bishops’ letter is a call to action – not just for Catholics, but for everyone.
“It’s not only a both/and, it’s an all-in,” she said. “Because we’re all part of this. We all have these encounters and we are all touched in some way.”
Read the full pastoral letter here and listen to the full conversation below: