Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Intention for Those Experiencing Depression and Burn-out

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

November 15, 2021

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ November Prayer Intention for those suffering from depression and burn-out.

Darkness remains longer in the morning and arrives earlier in the evening these November days, despite the fact that we are “falling back” with our clocks! This increase in physical time spent closer to night than to day has its effects on all of creation. Growth stops, hibernation calls, and for some people, this can be a time of spiritual, emotional and mental misery. Pope Francis keys into this reality for many in his intention for November. It urges us to pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life.

Linking this intention with our call to proclaim justice, we can consider the availability of quality health care for those suffering from depression or other types of mental illness. To begin, we need a common definition of mental illness. A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines (Mental Health America).

According to the most recent statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health, almost 20 percent of American adults experienced a mental health issue of some kind over the course of 2016 alone.

The Bishops of California have written a pastoral letter entitled Hope and Healing commenting on this letter, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, professor of psychiatry at the University of California Irvine and co-author of The Catholic Guide to Depression, writes, “So in Orange County, a county with a lot of resources, we have no county hospital where unfunded patients with mental health problems can go. We regularly have patients that are suicidal or acutely psychotic basically boarding in our emergency rooms for days, waiting for an in-patient bed to open somewhere.”

It would seem that there would be broad agreement on the unacceptable nature of this situation. So, what can be done? f we wish to defend the dignity of individuals with mental illness, advocacy efforts are needed in the following areas:

Faith Community –If a person feels rejected by their church they may often feel rejected by God. When a faith community accepts the person for who they are, the faith community reflects God’s unconditional love for all of us.

Employment – Employment is a key not only to economic stability, but to a person’s well-being, sense of purpose, self-esteem and the ability to contribute in the work environment.

Language – Every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Using language that recognizes the person rather than the condition acknowledges their dignity and value.

Criminal Justice – Lack of mental health services often leads to unnecessary and inappropriate incarceration for minor crimes. Concentrated efforts should be taken to: (1) ensure the availability within local police forces of crisis intervention teams; (2) ensure that adequate and properly trained legal representation is available for persons with mental illness; (3) ensure that jails and prison systems provide mental health services and (4) create diversion programs that provide treatment instead of incarceration.

Housing – Lack of affordable housing poses a major problem, since a person living with mental illness may rely on disability financial assistance, or may be unable to obtain a job with a decent wage. Advocacy efforts must ensure that there are affordable housing options that permit people to live in the community and that also address the high prevalence of homelessness.

Health Care – Proper diagnosis, medication, and an appropriate range of support services will deliver cost-effective results. Early intervention and treatment of mental illness is key to favorable outcomes.

(National Catholic Partnership on Disability)

Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics “not to remain securely behind the doors of our parishes, but to reach out to everyone, especially those who are marginalized and forgotten”—a call that must include people who suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses.

Let us hold in our hearts the words to a well-known hymn:

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.

Christ, be our light!


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