Suffering with a mental illness, struggling for faith


For someone suffering with a mental illness, the beacon of faith that once may have fostered hope, strength and guidance may be clouded over.

Yet today there is an expanding realization that, even for those in the grip of despair and depression, the spiritual light still burns within.

Faith and the experience of church — the practices, prayers, rituals, and community — seem to beckon through the darkness.

For those brought up in the Catholic faith, the liturgy, Scripture, sacramental life, and the broad community of believers, offers something not easily definable, but something tenable. The church and its practices provide a place to belong, a connection to others, a concept of something larger than self.

For those who suffer with mental illness, with all of the obstacles and layers of suffering, the church continues to provide a chance for a believer to be an instrument of fidelity and hope.

“A person’s faith and/or spirituality can be both a source of distress and of healing for people who are in need of mental health treatment. It is a very complicated relationship,” said Sylvia Loumeau, director of Behavioral Health Services Catholic Charities, Camden Diocese. “We make it a point at Catholic Charities to explore the relationship between a client’s faith and his or her other issues — as well as what spiritual supports they may have.”

“In the past, it was unusual to involve even the mentally ill person’s own family in treatment, let alone to think of it as a community issue,” Loumeau said. “As a religious family, there is so much that we need to know and understand about mental illness in order to better minister to and to include the mentally ill in religious life.”