by Ruth Moraes
Over ninety people gathered on Zoom on Wednesday 30th June 2021 for the Annual Tri-Diocesan Social Justice Reflection evening to reflect on the themes of the current Social Justice Statement “To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today”. Hosted by the Diocese of Broken Bay in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Parramatta social justice representatives, a major theme which emerged from the evening was the importance of recognising the dignity and gifts of those that struggle with mental health issues.
Bishop Anthony Randazzo of Broken Bay kicked off the evening with a reflection from the perspective of faith on Mental Health. In acknowledging the timeliness of the topic, particularly during a second snap Covid-lockdown, he urged everyone to look to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus to guide the Church’s response to those to have more severe mental health needs. In recognising that all of us are likely to struggle with mental illness at some point in our lives, Bishop Randazzo emphasised that mental illness is not the result of a moral failure or a lack of faith. He also urged the audience to recognise the inherent dignity and unique gifts that people with mental ill-health can bring to the world: “People are never problems. They may have issues. To view a person as a problem robs them of their human dignity.”
Dr Robbie Lloyd, Research and Project Officer at the Justice and Peace Office of the Archdioces of Sydney followed in the same theme by encouraging everyone to see that we are all a gift to each other. With a rousing exhortation for everyone to spring into action and see what can be done at a local level to improve the large gaps in appropriate mental health care, Robbie also offered to work with anyone who wanted to do something but did not know where to start. In admitting the seriousness of the mental health epidemic we are currently in, Robbie’s sage advice may come as a surprise but may be one of the most practical things all of us can do: face the situation with both honesty and humour. In allowing that the Covid crisis may have led new mental health challenges for some people and exacerbating underlying ones for others, Robbie also pointed to the silver lining which is that Covid has brought out the best in empathy in so many more people, particularly as it relates to mental health issues.
To finish off the evening, Ashleigh Donnelly, who has worked as a social worker at CatholicCare spoke about an often over-looked cohort of people whose mental health is particularly precarious: young people. In putting the mental health epidemic front and centre once again, Ashleigh was firm in her conviction that mental health issues need to be at the forefront of the Church in 2021. This is especially so when it comes to young people because as the National Report on the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Youth Survey revealed, mental health was the primary concern of young Australian Catholics today.
Sadly the support services just cannot keep up in the spike in demand and this burden frequently falls on school counsellors to deal with issues that should be referred to more highly trained specialists. This is because in some areas there is a 12 week wait to see a Headspace counsellor or an eight week wait to see a private psychologist. Despite the direness of the situation, Ashleigh encouraged us to have hope and also had some good news to share regarding specific parishes that have started free counselling services and well being hubs to cater to the mental health needs of those in the area.
In returning to the importance of dignity for all human beings, but especially those who are suffering with mental distress Ashleigh brought us back to the words of the psalmist which can be prayed by everyone “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14