Australian bishops get it right on mental health

By Daniel P. Horan, 2 November 2020
Image: Jordan Bauer/Unsplash.


Living through a global pandemic has given even people with the most calm and serene dispositions at least some experience of anxiety, depression or dread. For those who struggle with more serious or chronic mental health issues, the perfect storm of the pandemic, economic precariousness, renewed attention to systemic racial injustice and a polarising political climate has further exacerbated suffering that is often dismissed or ignored on account of social stigma.

Very few Catholic leaders or public figures in the United States are talking about the toll the circumstances of 2020 have placed on the mental health of millions of people.

While the American hierarchy continues to lose its collective moral authority in the public square with increasingly narrow and often partisan interests, other conferences of bishops around the globe are taking important steps to address what Vatican II called the “griefs and anxieties” of the people in their communities. A great example of this is the recent document by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference titled “To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today,” published in August as the focus of their annual social justice statement.

The document also impressively engages both the best of medical and scientific research as well as the Catholic theological and pastoral tradition. Rarely in the American context do we see the U.S. bishops’ conference engage with the scientific or medical community directly, let alone in a humble way that expresses the church’s real need to learn from professional experts.

The document’s directness, honesty and humility make an important contribution to the de-stigmatising of mental illness and models for Catholics — and all people of goodwill — a way of discussing, sharing and responding to the needs of sufferers without shame. The significance of this cannot be understated.

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Daniel P. Horan is the Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he teaches systematic theology and spirituality. His recent book is Catholicity and Emerging Personhood: A Contemporary Theological Anthropology.

With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter and Daniel P. Horan, where this article originally appeared.


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