Cenacle Sister Linda Lizada links faith and mental wellbeing
Belief in a good and faithful God is key to mental healing and recovery.
Is faith important for mental health?
Does faith play a role in the recovery process of someone who is suffering from mental issues? How can the Good News be communicated to those whose mental illness might be a hindrance to hearing God’s word of love and fullness of life? In this reflection, it is my hope that each one of us will consider our responses to them as we navigate the difficult landscape that is mental illness.
Faith is important in recovering from mental illness because it provides an infinite horizon by which one can orient one’s life beyond present pain, and gives transcendent meaning to one’s ongoing struggles to be well.
In other words, to believe in a good and faithful God who lovingly desires one’s well-being is the most essential key to healing and recovery. To believe this is not to spiritualise the wrenching challenge of one struggling with mental illness; rather, it is to help this person put the reality of this mental condition in the context of a God who accompanies and stays with him/her no matter what.
As baptised Catholics, we shouldn’t even have to think about whether the Church needs to take a stand regarding the care of people with mental issues. Integral to our baptismal consecration is such a care. All the principles of Catholic Social Teaching (which embodies all the Church’s teachings on how we are to love our neighbour), point to one conclusion: God’s love is towards all, without exception, and we are to participate in making that love known and experienced.
Integrating Faith and Life
Our challenge is to work at integrating faith and life so that it becomes a reflex for each one of us to reach out to those in need.
As our awareness grows, as our acceptance deepens, as our actions flow from our refusal to avoid facing this particular challenge of mental illness, we just might make it possible for those who are ill to find their way home to God and God’s healing.
Spiritual direction can also point the way towards this infinite horizon beyond present pain, in a variety of ways. Spiritual direction can be helpful in some cases, when it takes place simultaneously with psychological interventions. Or when, within the context of spiritual accompaniment these issues come up, referrals to appropriate professionals are made. Support faith-sharing groups are helpful in building a community of believers for whom a faith orientation is a definite healing component.
In the Cenacle, one programme we offer called “Fire-Tested Gold: Living with Depression in the Light of Faith”, can be an avenue for some seeking guidance and direction when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.
It is designed for those who suffer from depression, as well as those who take care of loved ones who struggle with this oft-debilitating disease.
When I asked Sr Cecille Tuble, the Cenacle Sister who facilitates this programme, about how faith helps in the recovery process, she referred me to this book: “How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist”. In the book, the authors concluded that faith is the number one way of enhancing one’s physical, mental and spiritual health.
Participants are invited to see depression not only as a medical condition to be addressed with proper medical and therapeutic interventions, but also as a vehicle of God’s healing mercy and faithfulness. Like fire-tested gold, their faith will become stronger when the experience of depression is integrated within the greater context of their life as a whole. This change in perspective happens through a process which includes inputs, prayer, reflection and faith-sharing. While this is a group programme, personal consultation and/or spiritual direction are offered in the course of the weekend.
Sr Linda Lizada is the Spiritual Director of Clarity Singapore, a Catholic charity that provides services to persons with mental health issues.
Article first appeared in Catholic News, 3 Nov 2019