Today, Friday, February 11, 2022 marks the 30th World Day of the Sick which was instituted by St Pope John Paul II to encourage the people of God, Catholic health institutions and civil society to be increasingly attentive to the sick and to those who care for them.
The theme chosen for this observance is Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).
In his message on the Day, Pope Francis stated that Jesus’ invitation to be merciful like the Father has particular significance for healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, the support staff, and the caretakers of the sick, as well as the numerous volunteers who donate their precious time to assist those who suffer.
In this article, Catholic News Writer Kaelanne Jordan puts the spotlight on persons struggling with mental health, particularly at this time.
“You are not alone, and the services are there for a reason. Whether you choose to access it or not…the problem exists. The only question is ‘Am I going to get the help to resolve it before it gets so bad that I would need something that is extraordinary?’.”
Strong advice from Sharon Bermudez, Counsellor/Marital and Family Therapist as she gave her thoughts on the ongoing conversation of mental health following the death of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst January 30 by suicide.
According to Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins, Kryst hid her “high functioning depression” from everyone.
Weighing in on this, Bermudez underscored that depression is a spectrum illness. Even though the person is depressed, they are able to manoeuvre their natural energy resources to enable them to continue to function in a way that the average person thinks they are okay.
According to Bermudez, “There is a cluster of symptoms that suggests someone is depressed. If someone is showing a certain amount of those symptoms over a period of time, if it is not treated and it deepens, it’s kind of predictable as depression gets more severe that it can lead to a negative outcome.”
She continued, “I think everyone’s experience of depression is going to be somewhat different. There are areas that are predictable and areas that are not predictable. The average person does not know what all the symptoms are. It’s not necessarily there wasn’t signs, it’s that ‘I did not know how to interpret those signs’; ‘I didn’t know when they told me stay away, I don’t want to talk’… To see that as maybe a sign of depression as opposed to, they’re just in a bad mood….”
Overall, Bermudez said that the average person is ill equipped to interpret the signs.
Culture “definitely” does play a role in stigmatising mental illness, Bermudez stressed. She spoke of the various aspects of culture — family culture in terms of how acceptable it is for persons to express and show these feelings within the family; culture from race, ethnicity, organisational and national culture.
Bermudez mentioned while as a society we are “substantially” more open to seeking help, “it can significantly improve. We have a long way to go.”
She explained, “I think the pandemic has shifted the mental health conversations significantly. For the people I have met and spoken with, I still feel like there is a need to normalise, that given the situation with the pandemic, it’s okay and it’s normal that your anxiety, stress, and depression is high. And they are surprised by this…. It’s a comforting message to them that it’s okay because they have not felt that it’s ok.”
In her private practice, Bermudez shared that 90 per cent of her clientele are persons who volunteered for her services. The remaining 10 per cent, she said, were encouraged by family and friends.
Bermudez observed that the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ get “conflated”. “Whether you use one or the other, people think of it as ‘crazy’. And the only time people come to therapy is because they’re mental.”
Simone Wright, who served as a registered mental health nurse at St Ann’s Hospital knows this all too well.
Speaking to Catholic News, she commented that misinformation and stigma associated with mental illness poses a deterrent for persons accessing help and compliance to medication.
“We have some situations when we’re talking to clients, their relatives will tell them the medication they are taking, ‘dais mad medication and that go have them like zombie’.”
“There are a lot of individuals who have mental illness who are doctors, teachers, professionals, nonprofessionals and they take their treatment, and they function very good in society…you can function once you take your treatment.”
In a similar vein, Wright maintained, the conversation on mental health and specifically mental illness is still taboo.
“There are many different mental disorders. They are becoming more aware of depression and suicide but there are other types…and they still believe it’s people playing the fool.”
Within the last years, pre-pandemic, she has seen younger persons being treated for depression and suicidal ideation. This has increased during the pandemic, she said.
She said more education is needed to highlight signs of mental illness especially depression, the world-leading illness.
For persons struggling with mental health, Bermudez has this piece of advice: “Don’t let shame and embarrassment stop you from seeking help. It’s normal to be struggling in the context of ordinary life…. We know you have the internal capability and skills, but we know you are tapped out and tired …and the counselling process works. It’s a process that works for many people and you won’t know whether it will be helpful for you until you try it.”
——————————————————— If you know someone struggling, get help at https://looking-point.com/ Or visit them on Facebook at ‘Looking Point Solutions’.