Diocese addresses mental health through conference

May 8, 2024

ORLANDO | In response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Campaign for Mental Health, the Diocese of Orlando is hosting a full-day conference on the subject. Coordinators hope the Catholic Mental Health Gathering will provide an opportunity for self reflection, education about mental health, and offer encouragement to provide avenues in which to accompany those suffering.

Unlike mental health first aid courses offered through Catholic Charities of Central Florida, this is not a course or training. The gathering reflects the Church trying to have a conversation around mental health and seeks to mobilize the Church to respond with compassion, as requested by the Catholic bishops. It marks a step forward for the local church in promoting self care and broader compassion and support for every person’s mental well-being.

Morning sessions focus on grasping the basics of mental health. Deacon Ed Shoener will address mental health literacy. Deacon Shoener is the founder and president of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers and a founding member of the Catholic Institute of Mental Health Ministry at the University of San Diego. He is also co-founder of The Katie Foundation, named after his daughter, Kathleen, who died by suicide in 2016.

There will also be spiritual conversations regarding mental health and the Church.

Afternoon sessions address overcoming anxiety and practical concerns for parish staff in handling sensitive mental health situations. Catherine Galda, director of Behavioral Health Services at Catholic Charities of Central Florida will speak about building trauma-informed parishes and empowering resilience in Catholic communities. There is a need to build such spaces because churches are often the first place someone struggling goes for help. Those affected are looking for answers to deep questions: Why is this happening to me? Does God care? What am I supposed to learn from this?

“Mental well-being is a continuum,” Galda said. “We’ve all experienced periods of anxiety, periods of depression. Not all of those periods, for most of us, end up in a mental health condition. It’s about severity, intensity, life interruption, and time. That’s the difference, how much you’re struggling, suffering, how much it interrupts your life, and how long it lasts.”

Galda added this speaks to the commonality of the human experience. She said she hopes people leave with the understanding that “suffering is a part of our lives and we suffer, in some ways, as Christ suffered, and there is hope. We can recover, but we need support and each other.”

The idea that we can find meaning amid suffering is part of our Catholic tradition, said Luis Nieves, diocesan director of pastoral ministry.

“It can be a catalyst for personal growth. It can also help us develop empathy for other people.” Nieves said, recalling the story of the Good Samaritan in which one person is moved by the suffering of another.

“That is at the core of the Gospel message,” he said. “God was moved by the suffering of humanity and came to save us from that and bring us new life. No matter how deep the pain or suffering, as shown on the cross, God’s love and compassion has the power to transform it and bring new life out of it.”

He hopes this is the response at the heart of every Catholic when they experience their own mental  health challenges or that of another. He said this is the same hope the gathering wishes to impart.

“It’s the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel and its message of Hope,” Nieves said. “We are hopeful because we can see our parishes are becoming these communities of understanding and support and walking alongside people who are facing mental health challenges just as Christ would. I think that a caring presence, dedicated support, and knowledge of available resources within the community are important tools for the Church to use in its pastoral response.”

All are welcome to Catholic Mental Health Gathering: Finding Peace in His Presence, Saturday, May 18, at Holy Family Parish, 5125 South Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. To register, click here.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, May 08, 2024