CatholicCare supporting those with mental ill health in unconditional way

By Mary Brazell, 27 August 2020
Image: cottonbro from Pexels.


With the COVID-19 disruption to our lives, many people are experiencing physical, social and economic stress, putting strain on our mental health.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has released a timely statement ahead of Social Justice Sunday, 30 August, entitled To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today.

The Bishops of Australia encourage us to reject stigmatising mental health, and for society to provide adequate support services, particularly for the most vulnerable groups who often fall through the gaps.

As the Bishops affirm in the Statement, “mental ill-health is not a moral failure, the result of a lack of faith, or a weak will…people experiencing mental ill-health are not some ‘other’ people, they are ‘us’.”

For CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, the Bishops’ Social Justice Statement aligns with their approach to serving those needing assistance in a range of areas. Often, mental health issues can be an underlying factor.

“The Bishops’ Statement explains mental health as being on a continuum that, to some degree, we can all relate to,” Natalie Vlies, Head of Clinical Governance, Risk & Quality, told Catholic Outlook.

“It clearly points to the need to view mental health as something that we are all impacted by.”

Natalie agreed that, as outlined in the Bishops’ Statement, “the stigma associated with mental ill-health can be as debilitating as the symptoms of the illness.”

Natalie believes that CatholicCare understands how ‘scary’ it can be to seek help, and ensures their approach is designed to provide safety and reduce shame in an open and accepting way.

“One of the really good things about CatholicCare, which speaks to the ‘Catholic’ in CatholicCare, is that we strive to work with clients in a very unconditional, non-judgemental way. I think it has to be a foundation of this kind of work.

“When people contact us needing assistance, we guide them to the right support services and stay with them until they get it. Our caseworkers will continue to be with that person, particularly if it is a mental health condition until they find what they need,” she said.

The Bishops’ Statement explains that we are called “to restore the Body of Christ by making mental health a key priority, acknowledging and including people living with mental ill-heath within our communion and the heart of Australian society.”

When asked what she thought individuals and parishes can do to support those with mental ill-health, Natalie stressed the importance of community outreach.

“It would be great if everyone could better understand mental ill-health and debunk some of the myths,” she said. “This means seeing the whole person and not the illness.”

“Recognising that the illness is just part of that person’s experience – not who they are.

“We can be more accepting and open to behaviours that may emerge from mental ill-health, and more open to conversations with those who are being impacted in some way.

“We can also educate ourselves and be more embracing and inviting. It’s not ‘them’ and ‘us’,” she added.

Natalie outlined how CatholicCare’s future might align with the outreach message featured in the Bishops’ Statement.

“At CatholicCare, we’re hopeful that in the next few years, community development will be a big focus of what we do. We want to look at ways of reaching out to people who may not be coming to us, and consulting with the community on the best approach.”

CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains provides counselling services which are available for individuals, couples, single parents, families, those experiencing grief and loss, seeking financial counselling or a way to reach out and support through volunteering.

To make an inquiry or a referral:

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, has recorded a message to the Diocese of Parramatta for Social Justice Sunday, which can be viewed here.

The 2020-2021 Social Justice Statement, To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today, can be downloaded from the Office for Social Justice website:


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