Bishops worry about looming mental health crisis

Australia’s Catholic bishops have identified a looming mental health crisis as their priority social justice focus this year.

During the past year Australian’s resilience has been tested with the country coping with droughts and deadly bushfires followed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the uncertainty that goes with it.

“People experiencing mental ill-health are not some ‘other’ people, they are ‘us’,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president and Brisbane Archbishop, Mark Coleridge says.

In the foreword to the bishops’ 2020-21 social justice statement, To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today, Coleridge writes:

“People in our families, faith communities, workplaces and society are suffering mental ill-health – and they can be of any age or socioeconomic background.”

“It is surely time for us to make mental health a real priority, so that all people may know the fullness of life which Jesus offers (John 10:10).”

Australia’s recent bushfires were implicated in over 400 deaths. They displaced entire small towns, and destroyed homes and businesses.

Their impact that has caused “environmental-related anxieties,” and “led to resignation and loss of hope”,,the bishops’ statement says, noting:

  • Suicide rates in rural and remote communities are 66 per cent higher than in major cities
  • The greater frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters amplify the impact climate change is having on mental health
  • The Covid-19 pandemic makes us recognise our vulnerability and we realise that we are not in control
  • Our daily routines have been disrupted
  • Over a million people have lost their jobs or been stood down
  • Our workplaces and churches have been closed
  • We have been forced to isolate ourselves from others
  • Many people will be distressed or relive previous trauma through the impact the virus is having in their lives

Besides commenting on recent crises, the bishops also address other issues contributing to the mental health crisis.

“Mental health can be seen as a continuum,” they say.

“At one end are people who are feeling well and coping with the demands of daily life. This is the case for 60 per cent of all Australians,” the statement says.

“At the other end are people experiencing mental illness.”

The interplay of poor mental health, homelessness and incarceration, and the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people on key measures of disadvantage including mental ill-health are all issues the bishops’ social justice statement raises.

Besides costing Australia billions of dollars in expenses and lost revenue, the bishops say the real cost of mental illness denies a person’s human dignity and their right to live life to the full.

“It is a rejection of the gifts that they have to offer and their membership in the Body of Christ.

“Our parishes, organisations and communities should be places of acceptance, care and healing, not places of rejection or judgement.

“Furthermore, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we have to take the initiative to go out to those pushed to the edges, rather than waiting for them to come to us seeking welcome.”


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News category: World.

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