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Communities and those with mental illness

Friday 10th September, 2004

Being Welcoming Communities for Those with Mental Illness

Social Justice Sunday, celebrated in the Catholic Church, on 12 September kick-starts a week long focus on Mental Health.

Caritas, the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development, chose mental health as the theme following the experience of many front line church agencies that have cared for visibly ill and unsupported people in the wake of infrastructural change from institutions to community based health services.

However, it is also recognised that many people suffer invisibly, often afraid of rejection by neighbours and communities because of the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.

Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech said reflecting on Catholic social teaching which says that every person is equal in human dignity and rights, shows that there are many ways in which our society fails to live up to this for those who have experienced mental illness.

“Pope John Paul II makes it clear that reintegration back into the community is also part of the Church’s work of healing the sick. He says that just as illness excludes people from society, so healing must bring people back to rediscover their place in family, church and society.”

Resources prepared for Social Justice Week include the publication Out of the Depths: Mental Health in New Zealand which has been sent to all Catholic parishes and schools. Specific educational resources have also been prepared for Catholic schools covering four themes:
1. Every person is created with dignity
2. Guidelines for good health (Hauora)
3. Societal influence on mental health
4. What you can do if things go wrong in your life

Many Catholic parishes have responded to the call to consider their awareness of the experience of people with mental illness by organising specific prayers, speakers and parish discussion groups. Parishes have been encouraged to find ways to become more welcoming communities to all those who live on the margins of our society.


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