Irish Bishops publish 'Day For Life' pastoral letter on mental health

 The Catholic Church in Ireland will mark the 'Day for Life' 2008 this Sunday, 5 October, at Masses throughout the country with a Pastoral Letter addressing an important aspect of health care: mental health. The Pastoral, jointly published by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, has been distributed nationwide and is on

The Day for Life is marked annually. Each year it highlights an aspect of the Church's awareness of the sacredness of human life. The Day for Life this year focuses attention on the issue of mental health and, in particular, on needs of those affected by mental ill-health, their family, friends, and carers. It also acknowledges the support which the parish community and the professional services can bring to those affected.

According to Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, "The Church's annual Day for Life message seeks to highlight the value and sacredness of human life and the care which everyone in society should show for one another. Feedback from the 2004 Day for Life theme Life is for Living - A Reflection on Suicide clearly indicated the need for a more widespread awareness of the importance of mental health in society as a whole. Accordingly the Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh bishops have chosen the theme of mental health this year.

The Pastoral Letter notes: "The person in your parish community who may be suffering today is the young mum with post-natal depression, the local businessman with stress, your own parish priest, the man who has recently lost his wife to cancer or the young person who has lost faith in life, as well as someone with an obvious, severe and enduring mental illness."

Bishop Fleming said; "Our key message is twofold: nobody is immune for mental ill health and, in the interest of the common good, every citizen has a responsibility to promote, directly or otherwise, the mental health of all the members of our society and of our local communities. We can do this by being vigilant about promoting the mental health of those around us while not neglecting our own in the process."

Bishop Fleming continued, "As the Pastoral suggests, none of us should take our mental health for granted. No walk of life is immune from experiencing mental health difficulties in different and varying degrees, for example: parents, young people, employees/employers, mental health practitioners themselves, clergy, and people who have experienced bereavement etc." In particular he noted that, "as a society, we have yet to remove the lingering stigma which is sometimes attached to mental ill-health. We need to jettison the taboo around discussing the issue, and our discussions ought to be non-judgmental."

"As part of our preparations for the Pastoral Letter we were fortunate to have received support from mental health practitioners and I would like to thank, in particular, Professor Sheila Hollins, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatry in London, and the Rev Dr Tony Byrne and Sister Kathleen Maguire of the Awareness Education Office in Cabra, for their generous help and expertise."

Bishop Fleming concluded, "In the Gospels Christ shows His constant care for those 'who labour and who are overburdened'. In so doing so, in particular, He assures us of His deep care for those who suffer from problems relating to mental health. By turning to Him in faith and prayer, miracles of grace and healing are often worked for those who suffer from ill health. Prayerful support of those who care about the mental health of every member of the community also assists in this great work of Christian concern. On the Day for Life 2008 we are offered an opportunity to reflect on and take stock of the issue of mental health in our society."

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