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You Can’t Just Pray It Away

  /   Tuesday June 12, 2018  

Articles about depression and suicide are coming across my news feeds in the wake of the recent, tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. To be honest, I’m not that familiar with either of them, but it’s my long-standing habit to say a prayer for the soul of anyone whose death I hear about. It’s difficult for me to imagine what must be going through anyone’s mind to decide that taking his or her own life is the best way out. The old saying that kept coming up on the TV ads when I was growing up was that “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” However, someone with a mental or emotional problem is going to have a hard time seeing it that way.

We may not want to simply follow the whims of the media, but this is a great time to examine our attitudes as Catholics towards people with emotional or mental disorders. It seems that there are a number of devout Catholics who will over-spiritualize mental disorders. I have even heard a priest talk about how one doesn’t need a counselor but need only say the Rosary. There exists a misconception that the feelings that accompany mental illness are in and of themselves sinful or are purely caused by sin or some other spiritual fault. Someone with anxiety is assumed to not be trusting in God enough; maybe the person with depression isn’t praying enough.

Another form of this extreme is to attribute all mental illness to some activity of demons or even of the Devil himself. Someone who believes this may simply tell someone to pray, go to some deliverance ministry, or even undergo an exorcism. While genuine diabolical activity does exist and may mimic a mental health disorder, making such an assumption without a proper evaluation can be downright dangerous.

The fact is that being a faithful Catholic is not automatic insulation from mental or emotional health problems. Even if it were, how many of us live out our faith so perfectly that we can avoid every problem? Genuine problems can occur with people’s minds, and these problems will require not just prayer, Sacraments, and spiritual direction (though all of these should be used) but also professional mental health treatment. As Catholics it’s our job to support our brothers and sisters who are experiencing these problems and not be dismissive of them.

We must also be careful not to view the problem from a completely secular perspective and to disregard the spiritual component of the problem that may exist (though some disorders may in fact be mostly if not completely biological). This is shown when someone is merely put on medication with no effort to look at the person’s life and behavior. Prayer and the Sacraments end up playing no part in treatment because they are simply viewed as not relevant. No consideration is given to the idea that there may be some sin involved because that would be a form of “blaming the victim.” I am not trying to condone making a quick, armchair diagnosis here but to say that we need to consider all aspects here. Christ does have real power to heal and will use it.

We have body, mind, and spirit all working together, and problems that arise can easily have more than one dimension. If we fail to address part of the problem, we will unnecessarily limit the healing that someone can experience. I think I can safely say that, no matter what the cause, we want people to experience healing. They have to want it, too, but our own approach can be instrumental in bringing this about.

Category: Catholic, Response, Uncategorized

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