Pastoral Response to Suicides and Mental Health Challenges

To: Priests, Deacons, Principals, Directors of Religious Education, Campus Ministers and Seminarians
From: Maggie Rousseau, Director, Disabilities Ministry; Office of Life, Dignity and Justice

Recent school shootings, suicides and loss of hope beg us to look at mental health challenges and our response as Church.

“One of the fundamental truths of Christian belief is that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The Catholic Church unconditionally embraces and faithfully proclaims this truth. It is the foundation for human dignity. Our commitment to this truth is measured through actions on behalf of the vulnerable and alienated in society, especially the poor and suffering.” Affirming the Dignity of the Mentally Ill, Nebraska Bishop’s Conference, January 2005.

There are 20% of individuals struggling with mental health challenges in the United States. This incident rate is higher in areas of poverty. According to the CDC, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Georgia. Those suffering and their families have broken hearts and very often feel alone.

Additionally, when suicide is glamourized by the media, suicide contagion can follow. The popularity among our teens and young adults of the Netflix television series, 13 Reasons Why is disturbing and can be harmful. In response, The National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities (NCPD)/Council on Mental Illness has created the attached document of resources for meaningful discussion about mental health and suicide. NCPD also provided pastoral resources specific to mental illness online at http://ncpd.org/mental-illness.

The Georgia Crisis and Access Line number is 1-800-715-4225.

All parishes are encouraged to provide a welcoming and spiritually nourishing environment, which benefits attendees far beyond just being accepted and having the opportunity to contribute. Providing a time for community, prayer, adoration and reflection at the parish reinforces the understanding that God is with us, even in our most difficult times.

If you are interested in starting a mental health ministry in your parish, please contact me at mrousseau@archatl.com or 404-920-7682.