Phoenix — According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than twice as many people died at their own hands in 2020 than anyone else, and while the annual suicide rate actually declined in 2019 and 2020 — last year those numbers were available — the rate rose exponentially. Sharp since 2000.
Suicide was considered a mortal sin that could cost someone salvation, and suicide is viewed by the church today in a much milder way.
This development is accompanied by calls by clergy, doctors and advocates for suicide in the hope of curbing it and doing more to help those left behind.
On Sunday, September 4, the Archdiocese of Phoenix took an important step toward those two steps, becoming the latest in a growing number of dioceses across the United States to create a dedicated office for the Department of Mental Health.
The announcement – during the parish’s first mass commemorating suicide victims – came from a person familiar with the issue.
Phoenix Bishop John B. Dolan, who lost a brother and sister in two separate incidents more than a decade ago, revealed plans for a new office for the Catholic Mental Health Ministry at the end of his homily to once-only congregants. in Ss. Simon’s Cathedral in Phoenix.
In an interview after Mass, Dolan said a congregational office dedicated to mental health has been a target of him since the second part of August, but its implementation has been accelerated with a gift from a local foundation, Virginia J. Piper Charitable, which supports local religious and secular projects.
Immediately after the bishop’s remarks, members of the congregation who had lost a person by suicide were called to put one carnation for each person left in a basket in front of the cathedral shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe – patroness of the diocese.
He said: “Ask our Lady to accompany you in her prayers and to accompany our brothers and sisters who preceded us, asking the Lord to carry our brothers and sisters in the palm of His hand.”
Dolan said that he and other parish leaders were expecting online and in-person flower-laying requests from about 100-120 individuals. The final number was around 1200.
“There are a lot of people getting hurt,” he said.
The bishop said the new office would serve three purposes: education, accompanying those who were suffering, advocating for better policy, and funding from government and other sources.
“Educate our Catholic brothers and sisters who may not fully understand the depth of mental health; we accompany those who strive… in our parishes so that they are not lost but know they have a place at the table. We accompany those who suffer the suicide of loss. Those who survive the loss; I hope that Know that the Church is here, communicating with you, teaching you that you are loved and that your loved ones have not been forgotten. ”
Each of the 15 parish deans will host regular gatherings where people can share their stories and help each other.
“Finally, the office will promote advocacy, provide a voice for those with mental health issues, and ask officials, and our government in particular, to ensure that mental health is always at the forefront of all our discussions,” Dolan said. .
The diocese will provide priests and deacons a mental health “first aid kit” to guide them in responding to public requests for help.
“Often our priests don’t have (answers). He explained that they don’t have the resources at their fingertips that they need.
Another key feature is to inform the laity of how church attitudes toward suicide and mental health have evolved over the years.
“It’s not a lack of will. It’s a mental disorder. This is something we have to keep in mind as we look forward and continue the Catholic Mental Health Department.”
For decades, it was not church practice to celebrate a funeral mass for a person who committed suicide, due to the belief that murder is a sin. This is no longer true.
Father Kenneth Doyle, now retired columnist for Catholic News, wrote: “The Church is getting wiser…and now realizes that serious psychological anxiety can sometimes dampen—or even remove—a person’s ability to make decisions and their moral responsibility for those choices.” Service, in a 2021 article.
The response outside the church has also changed.
For example, while mental health professionals may be considered the first line to recognize symptoms, recent studies show that signs can be recognized by a family doctor or primary care physician.
A medical official with Catholic Charities in Arizona said the agency has seen a rise in requests for assistance in recent years.
“With the emergence of COVID, the need and recognition for mental health services has increased, particularly in the areas of grief, anxiety, and depression, which has affected counseling agencies. Trends (include) counselors with increased issues and individuals struggling to find services,” she wrote. Anna Smith, Senior Program Manager for Catholic Charities, in an email.
The Archdiocese of Phoenix is not alone in opening new horizons for mental health.
There are about 190 parishes in this country. Some have completely embraced it. Ed Schuener, a deacon in the Archdiocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and president of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, a nationwide public association that supports Catholic parishes and congregations in forming ministries.
Schooner’s daughter committed suicide at the age of 29.
Many worshipers at the memorial service were thrilled with the plan to open the Department of Mental Health office.
“I’m so excited,” said Laura Redlinger, 30, who moved to Phoenix a few months ago from San Diego, where she attended a suicide service that Dolan regularly celebrates as auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of San Diego.
Redlinger lost her brother a decade ago when he was twenty.
“I need a support group. There is not much in the Catholic Church. You can attend a grief support group but not specifically for someone who has lost someone to suicide,” she explained.
“I feel there is almost a stigma within the Catholic Church. There has to be an awareness of how important our mental health and emotional well-being are in light of the gospel, which we can apply to our personal problems.”
Nancy Hanna, 81, who attends St Elizabeth Seton Church in Sun City, has lost her husband, Gerald, 80, after losing his life years later to lung cancer. She has been a caregiver and is still looking for someone to talk to “candidly about it”.
“This is what I need; some healing. I need some closure and I can’t seem to find it,” she said.
“A lot of people are getting hurt,” said Anne Vargas-Livereza, who is helping set up the new office, which will begin operating on January 1.
“It’s time to put this on top,” she said. “We need to get to know her and talk about her.”
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Grant writes for The Catholic Sun, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Phoenix.
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