The Record

27 Aug 2020

By Theresia Titus

Making mental health an issue of justice and not just a medical concern was the highlight of the speech spoken by the Auxiliary Bishop of Perth Donald Sproxton at the Perth launch of the Social Justice Statement 2020-21 titled “To Live Life to the Full”, released on 6 August by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC).

Held on Thursday 20 August at Newman Siena Centre and organised by Archdiocesan Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO), the event began with a “welcome to country” by Aunty Marie Taylor.

Speaking about the statement, which explores the theme of mental health in Australia, Bishop Sproxton believes the subject is “vitally important and increasingly is put before us as one of the great challenges for our society”.

Bishop Sproxton also explained that mental health contributed to the wellbeing of each person, as stated in the Gospel when Jesus spoke of the opportunity for each person “to live life to the full”.

“The statement asserts that mental health is impacted by poverty, living conditions, and personal security,” he said.

“These social determinants put people who are disadvantaged or are the most vulnerable in our society at a higher risk of ill-health, and they can easily fall through gaps in the mental health system.

“This is why the issue of mental health is a matter of justice,” he continued.

Bishop Sproxton also spoke about the stigmatisation that often endured by those with mental ill-health, which can lead to isolation.

“We all need to have a better understanding of mental health so that there is no misconception and focus on the person, rather than on the illness,” he uttered.

“We need to be continually reminded that Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, took on the weaknesses of our common humanity.”

At the end of his speech, Bishop Sproxton brought to attention that the Archdiocesan parishes and communities play a significant role in making those with mental ill-health feel accepted into society.

“Of all the communities that make up our Australian society, our parishes, organisations and communities should be places of acceptance, care and healing, not places of rejection or judgement,” he said.

“The Church is called to embrace those who live with frailties and limitations, some that are imposed by ill-health. When we accept and include, we build the Church for we see the others as ‘us’ and not ‘them’.”

He also reiterated the steps mentioned in the statement that Archdiocesan parishes and communities can take to make mental health a priority, including increasing mental health awareness training, making links with mental health networks in the local area, advocating for the rights of individuals and their families, encouraging peer-to-peer support.

“I highlight this to encourage our parish communities to give priority to the pastoral care of people with mental ill-health,” Bishop Sproxton concluded.

A three-person panel discussion on mental health spoke at the event on 20 August, including: Centre for Life, Marriage and Family Director Derek Boylen, Team Leader of the Psychology Service for Catholic Education WA Laura Allison, and led by The Shopfront Director Damian Walsh.

One of the main points discussed in the panel was how anxiety and depressions crippled many Australians, especially those in adolescent, from living their life to the full.

Ms Allison emphasised that it is the young generations who are most prone to developing mental ill-health issues, which can hinder the development of their brain and expose them to mental ill-health in adulthood.

“The average age of onset for anxiety now is 6 [and] of depression is 14,” she stated.

“Children and youth a very vulnerable population, and the most significant cause of their deaths is suicide. I think the core messages for young people is about promoting health-seeking.

“[We are] building literacy for young people to know what is happening and know how to ask for help.”

“We know that compassion for others and compassion for self is in no way correlated, and we all need to turn the volume up right now on self-compassion,” Ms Allison continued.

“Everyone is doing the best they can at the moment. So, go gently with yourself and each other and assume positive intentions.”Mr Boylen explained how faith and relationship with God were part of the solution in battling mental ill-health.

“I think our Catholic identity and relationship with Christ make a difference by knowing that Christ also knows about stress, anxiety, as well as about grief and loss,” he added.

“There is certainly a challenge to our faith around this [issue], but there is also hope.

“Another most important point discussed was the need for self-care, mindfulness of one’s wellbeing before caring for others, and be kind to one another during this challenging period caused the pandemic.”


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