Catholics can show solidarity to people with mental illness in various ways.
Preach on the subject
Include references to persons with mental illness in homilies about social justice, caring for the poor, discrimination, and compassionate outreach to others. Avoid words or phrases in all sermons and communications that add to the stigmas against mental illness.
A supportive faith community is an integral part of recovery for people with mental illness. They can rely on that for their spiritual needs. Families also need support when dealing with the mental illness of a family member. The parish community can offer much through inclusive, non-judgmental, and unconditional love.
Be informed about the available resources in your community
People with mental illness and their families will often go to a clergy person and/or parish leaders first. It is important for clergy and leaders to listen with compassion and to know when to refer people to mental health professionals rather than trying to attempt to solve psychological problems themselves or dismiss the problem. It is also important to know where in the community one can refer people for competent professional help and services.
Engage in political activism, either through writing letter or direct action
Since much of the problem with obtaining adequate care comes from the lack of funding for existing programs and decent wages for health care workers, state legislators are key to improving the system.
Institute a peer-to-peer ministry program
People with mental illness often do not have a circle of friends, and an important element to recovery and healing is a caring community. Peers don’t have to be medical professionals, but instead are people who are caring and able to listen.
Give the peace and justice ministry the opportunity to get involved in the systemic problems surrounding mental illness
The failure of the mental health system to meet people’s basic needs is a moral issue. At least, one half of the prison population and one third of people suffering from homelessness have some kind of mental illness. The nation’s community mental health system is underfunded and provides inadequate services. Mental health workers are generally not well paid for their work. What programs do exist often create a continuous cycle of crisis for people with mental illness and their families. All this is morally unconscionable.
Promote the dignity of the individual
God loves us each as we are. Use “people first language” (e.g., phrases like “people with a mental illness” rather than “the mentally ill”). No one wants to be known as a disease.
Include information about mental illness in the church bulletin or newsletter
This should be a series of articles rather than one or two. This not only keeps the information readable instead of giving parishioners too much to digest at one time, but it also keeps the issue in people’s minds instead of just making it a one-time thing.
Include mental illness in healing prayers and services (e.g., anointing of the sick)
This gives a sign to the community that all illnesses are included in a parish’s care. Faith communities have to be particularly sensitive in this area, as there is a history of misguided prayer: Mental illness is not demon possession or God’s lack of love for us. It is a disease like any other.
Often host speakers on the topic of mental illness
The Chicago Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness, The National Catholic Partnership on Disability, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychiatric Association, and the Mental Health Association are just a few of the good resources for information and speakers.
Incorporate specific prayers for those suffering from mental health issues into prayers at worship services
This lets a faith community know that the community prays and cares for people with mental illness. The prayer sends a welcoming message and informs them that their community supports them.
Join with your diocese or other local faith communities to have an annual liturgical celebration of persons with a mental illness, their families, and mental health workers/professionals. This gathering should be celebratory and positive and include time after the liturgy to share fellowship and conversation.