Diocesan Mental Health Ministry Begins with Information
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 14, 2022
ROCKFORD—“Holy listening is a gift we give another when we listen in the context of the healing presence of God,” begins a handout shared at the Cathedral of St. Peter the evening of April 5 at the introductory session of “The Sanctuary Course for Catholics.”
The 8-part Sanctuary Course is an educational program geared for Catholics who are interested in the topic of mental health. That first gathering welcomed about 20 people who came from parishes around Rockford as well as places like St. Charles, South Beloit, Pecatonica and Janesville. 
Some came to learn more about the mental health challenges they or their families and friends face. Others came because of needs they’ve noticed in their ministries or their parishes.
The course is part of a larger ministry that began several months ago with a grant from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. That grant to the diocesan Catholic Charities Office provided funds for a central diocesan ministry coordinator — Mary Fuller, who led the April 5 session. She comes to the job after a tragic loss in her family and has a strong desire to assist people who struggle with depression and other mental health challenges.
“We are not offering treatment,” she says of the fledgling ministry. “We are just journeying with people. Listening is a key component — to truly hear what the person is saying (will) show them how much we care (about) the beautiful persons they are.”
Fuller says she is “endlessly excited about bringing the ministry to people,” some of whom suffer in silence from their own struggles or those of loved ones. She thinks the ministry will have them “feeling Christ’s love through the rest of us.”
Statistics from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) show the prevalence of mental health struggles in the U.S.:
-- One in five adults experiences mental health illness;
-- One in 20 adults experiences serious mental health illness;
-- And 17% of youths (ages 6-17) experience a mental health disorder.
From depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or bipolar disorder, mental health challenges are common.
Some parishioners in two diocesan parishes — St. Margaret Mary in Algonquin and St. Bridget in Loves Park — have completed the Sanctuary Course, began additional training, and now are moving forward to create mental health ministries in those parishes.
Richard Parsons, director of the counseling program of Catholic Charities, explains that a parish mental health ministry will “take shape according to each parish” and “will look different from each other.” Those parish ministries might take the form of support groups, prayer meetings or book studies, he says. 
The goal is not to diagnose anyone, Parsons adds, but for people to understand more about mental health challenges and to develop skills to accompany those who are being challenged, perhaps to link them with community services, and to help them participate more fully in parish life.
“We want to offer something that is distinctly Catholic,” he says. “Our faith is a resource to draw on for getting through” such challenges.
The Sanctuary Course is steeped in faith.
“Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries equips the Church to support mental health and wellbeing,” says a description on its website. 
“We provide resources that meaningfully engage the topics of faith and mental health. Our content is developed in collaboration with theologians, psychologists, and people with lived experience of mental health challenges. 
“These resources prepare communities of faith around the world to raise awareness, reduce stigma, support mental health, and promote mental wellbeing.”
The video shown in the first Sanctuary Course session included insights from archbishops, theologians, and psychologists as well as a young Catholic man, Matthew, who shared his struggles with anxiety, depression and thoughts that fixated on worst possible scenarios. 
Matthew noted his need to take care of all the aspects of his life included his “so important” spirituality. What he shared about his connection to God through all his struggles was inspiring.
The Sanctuary Course will continue to be offered from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Cathedral Fellowship Hall on Tuesdays through May 24, and hopes are that additional parishes will host the classes. 
For more information, contact Catholic Mental Health Ministry at cmhm@rockforddiocese.org or at 779-210-8699.
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