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After losing 4 siblings to suicide, this bishop founds a ministry

psychologist in office with patient

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Zoe Romanowsky - published on 10/28/22

Bishop of Phoenix John P. Dolan says his diocese will be dedicating more resources to help those with mental health struggles.

Mental health has never been an issue we’re particularly good at understanding and addressing inside or outside the Church. But a silver lining of the pandemic’s toll on health and wellness the past few years is a greater awareness of mental health issues and how important it is to pay attention to them in our lives, our society, and our faith communities.

Bishop John P. Dolan of the Phoenix, Arizona, diocese knows this first hand. His youngest sister, Mary Elizabeth Dolan, died by suicide on October 16 after struggling for many years with depressive mental illness. She is the third of Bishop Dolan’s eight siblings to die by suicide; he also lost a brother-in-law the same way.

These tragic losses are no doubt a powerful reason Bishop Dolan has taken mental health so seriously and announced recently that the Phoenix diocese will establish a Catholic mental health ministry.

“There are lots of people who are dealing with loved ones who are in crisis,” Bishop Dolan, 60, told CNA September 19. “It’s a quiet work of charity, and obviously they need all the help they can get.”

Bishop Dolan shared in a recent TV interview that back in his seminary days, after he had lost his brother, sister, and brother-in-law to suicide, it was “very hard for me because I was just not talking about it. We just didn’t,” he told ABC15.

That silence — whether you’re suffering yourself or your loved ones are suffering — only adds to the pain, helplessness, and loneliness that often comes with mental health struggles.

The decision to create a diocesan ministry to address mental health issues is a step in the right direction at a time when high numbers of people report an increase in mental health issues due to the pandemic.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study about high schoolers and mental health. Between January and June 2021, nearly 3 out of 4 students surveyed reported at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), such as emotional abuse or food insecurity. From USA Today’s reporting on the study:

Students who reported these experiences were also twice as likely to report they had poor mental health and up to six times more likely to report suicidal behaviors, like considering suicide, making a suicide plan, or attempting suicide in the past year compared to students who didn’t report recent ACEs.

Whether for teens, younger children, or adults, mental health is a huge issue that can no longer be swept under the rug. Hopefully the efforts of Bishop Dolan and the diocese of Phoenix will inspire dioceses and parishes everywhere to devote more resources and attention to the mental health needs of the people they serve.

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