The Record

22 Oct 2020

By Theresia Titus


The intertwined relationship of mental health and poverty was the spotlight at the Anti-Poverty Week (APW) Ecumenical Service, held at Highgate Parish on 14 October.

Themed “Mental health as a precursor and consequence of poverty”, this year’s service was organised by the Archdiocesan Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO), which is also a member of the Ecumenical Social Justice Roundtable (ESJR).

The service proceeded as follows:

  • Welcome to Country by Noongar Elder Aunty Marie Taylor.
  • Sr Margaret Scharf OP sang the opening and closing hymns, as well as a reflection that she wrote titled “Sacred Heart”.
  • Vicar of Social Outreach and Chief Operations Officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth Dr Terry Wilson welcomed people to the Church and spoke broadly about the theme.
  • JEDO Director Carol Mitchell said the opening prayer.
  • The Shopfront Director Damian Walsh gave the address.
  • Nigel Hayward, Manager Pastoral Services at St John of God Subiaco Hospital shared the 2020 Social Justice Prayer on mental health, in support of the 2020 Social Justice Statement: To live life to the full – Mental health in Australia today.
  • Anglican Archbishop of Perth Rev’d Kay Goldsworthy AO read the first reading.
  • Salvation Army State [Divisional] Leader Major Brad Potter read the second reading.
  • Caritas Australia Social and Ecological Justice Animator (WA & SA) Deacon Paul Reid presided the prayer of the Faithful and final blessing.
  • Other members of the ESJR: Council of Churches WA (CCWA) General Secretary Simone Micke, Geoff Bice from Uniting Church WA, Salvation Army Captain Simone Smalley, and Churches of Christ – Global Mission Partnerships Colin Battersby said the prayer of the faithful.
  • Mrs Mitchell concluded the Service by saying Pope Francis’ prayer from his recently published encyclical “Fratelli Tutti – On Fraternity and Social Friendship”.

In his welcome speech, Dr Wilson recognised the overlap of Anti-Poverty Week (11 to 17 October) and Mental Health Week (10 to 17 October) this year, emphasising the relation of the theme of the service with the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) 2020 Social Justice Statement.

Mr Walsh, who addressed the attendees during the service, emphasised the “how poverty and mental health can impact upon each other”.

“Mental health is not simply the absence of illnesses but having the capacity and opportunity to thrive. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing,” he said.

“Good mental health is not about feeling happy and confident 100 per cent of the time and ignoring any problems, [but] it is about living and coping well despite problems. [It] is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil key functions and activities.”

Mr Walsh explained that the lack of good mental health could hinder our ability to be productive, which can lead to unemployment and poverty.

“The impacts of poverty are broad and far-reaching,” Mr Walsh added.

“This impacts upon families, their general wellbeing, including nutrition and psychological functioning.”

At the end of his speech, Mr Walsh mentioned that mental ill-health and poverty also lead to isolation from social engagements and relationships, which are essential to maintain good mental health.

“Limited social engagement, connection, access and opportunity are equally detrimental to health and wellbeing,” he stated.

“We are social beings. We need the bonds of family, friends and the broader community. These bonds help us to face the usual challenges of life, but they are even more important in times of anxiety or despair.”

Speaking to The eRecord, Mrs Mitchell said the service “reminds us that we are at our best when we work together and focus on what unites us, rather than focussing on our differences”.

“We all endeavour to leave no-one behind through our combined faith-based social justice efforts and actions to eradicate poverty,” she explained.

Quoting 1 John 3:17-18 and Matthew 25:35-36, Mrs Mitchell believes we are capable to act on poverty by recognising “the inherent dignity and worth of our neighbours in crisis”.

“Eradicating poverty is a whole of community concern. In these very uncertain times, when mental health challenges are increasing, we need to act urgently and compassionately right now – just as Jesus would,” she concluded.

The APW website states that there are more than 3.24 million people or 13.6 per cent of the population living below the poverty line in Australia, which includes 774,000 children or more.

According to the research by the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods, the reductions in income support announced in July will increase poverty by one third to 3.5 million by December 2020.

The website also states that “the onset severe mental illness or domestic violence” also triggers severe poverty and homelessness, when there is a lack of support in the community.


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