May is Mental Health awareness month. In the last few weeks there have been several stories in the news about young people whose lives were lost to suicide. Just this week a 21-year-old Wisconsin college student who grew up in Ventura County became the latest tragedy. I attended a funeral last month of a young man who attended Junior high, high school and Confirmation while I was youth minister at my former parish. Too often this is not talked about. I think we can’t afford to not talk about it.
My older daughter began to struggle with depression and anxiety her Junior year of high school. It hit her hard and caught me completely off guard as up to that point in her life, and mine, I had never experienced mental illness firsthand.
For the last decade plus, I have been on a tumultuous journey with her and her mental illness. There have been peaks and valleys, as in all of life, but the valleys are quite frightening. When this illness crept into her life at 15 and into our family with her first suicide attempt, I was paralyzed by fear of losing her.
My younger daughter also began to battle depression and anxiety between her Freshman and Sophomore years of high school. It was hard for me to accept that both of my children have had to face this tough illness. With both of my girls I had so many times that I felt helpless and wished there were something more I could do.
My faith has been the way I make it through each day and not be in a constant state of worry about them and their well-being. God has been so gracious to me in giving me the strength and courage to love and support my daughters right where they are just as they are.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24, and the suicide rate for girls aged 10-14 has tripled in recent years. About 90% of people who have died by suicide suffered from depression or another diagnosable mental health condition. If you recognize someone struggling, you can support them. Be a good friend. Talk to them, pray with them, ask them if they’ve thought about suicide, and suggest they reach out for professional help. There is hope and healing in Christ, who loves each of us beyond measure. And we can be His hands and feet to our brothers and sisters with mental illness.
If you, or someone you love, is dealing with mental illness you are not alone. You can find more information here: https://lacatholics.org/mental-health-and-suicide/
Lord, we pray for those who have a mental illness. Help us to understand that the way we talk about people with a mental illness affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness; people say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic”; when we talk about mental illness, we should not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer; those with heart disease are not heart disease. Let us always remember that people with mental illness are not the illness—they are beautiful creations of God.
There is so much fear, ignorance, and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further. Help us to support and be compassionate to those with a mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from any other illness.
Grant courage to those for whom we pray and fill them with hope. If it is according to Your Divine Will, grant them the recovery and cure they desire. Help them to remember You love them; they are never alone.
Saint Dymphna, Patron of those with a Mental Illness, pray for us.