**Editor’s Note: This is the third and final blog post of a series addressing mental health issues by Dr. Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington. We hope that this helped educate you on the circumstances behind mental illness and suicide and begin that dialogue within the context of the Catholic community.
By: Dr. Frank Moncher, Staff Spotlight
The Need To Belong
As important as the prior topics of biochemistry, prayer, and pursuing virtuous lives are to addressing the problems of depression and risk of suicide, conquering isolation and loneliness is at the heart of flourishing as a human person. One might think that in Robin Williams’ case, his relationships with his wife and children and millions of adoring fans would meet this need. However, fame and popularity are not the same as attachment and connection.
The human soul longs for a deeper, more intimate sense of belonging. And even when there are family and friends who are ready to assist, for persons suffering from depression, the perception of relationships can be distorted and these loved ones not seen as such. The best prevention for suicidal behavior is healthy relationships, characterized by unconditional warmth, affirmation, and acceptance. This type of relationship provides people with a haven from the stress they experience in their daily lives. Altruism is another way of boosting a person’s gratitude for what they do have in their life, which might go unnoticed amidst the chaos and stress. It also combats isolation, which is rampant but sometimes missed in our world infused with “social networks” and visual communication.
What Can Be Done?
Because a certain stigma persists about seeking mental health treatment, shame can be a huge barrier to getting the help one needs. Therefore, it is wise for all to be attentive to the needs of those around us should we suspect they are struggling in some serious manner.
Warning signs or symptoms which are a cause for concern include emotional numbness that does not subside, insomnia or recurring nightmares, inability to engage one’s normal routine (e.g., returning to work, caring for one’s children or household), feeling isolated and unable to connect with others, staying busy to avoid feelings, and increased alcohol or drug use, including addictive prescription medication. More concretely, it is critical to pay attention to any preoccupation with death or talking about suicide, or behavior that can be seen as preparing for dying, such as giving away possessions or putting affairs in order. Sometimes those who are planning suicide seem to feel better once they have decided upon a course of action, because they believe that they have an answer to their problems. This temporary lift in spirits can give those around them the impression that things have improved, even if the tendency toward suicide was known.
Avoiding mention of the problem to protect the person is rarely helpful (though if the person redirects the conversation away from their mental health issue, this should naturally be respected). Acceptance and compassion, along with a prudent appraisal of ways to help (offering practical assistance with shopping, cooking, driving, etc.) can be beneficial. Make a sincere offer of emotional support, whether communicated in a card or letter, by telephone or in person, and give the depressed person permission to talk and then just listen. Let them decide how much they want to share.
There are also numerous organizations that have suicide prevention at the heart of their mission: to name a few, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (call 1 800-273-8255), the American Association of Suicidology, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Catholic Partnership on Disability.
While all of us need others to “pick us up” in times of stress and misfortune, some of us are better at asking for and receiving this assistance than others. For those reading this who may be going through a particularly difficult time, it is vital to find a way to connect with others who can provide you comfort and support. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you to know who is there, waiting to be asked… And for those reading who have begun wondering if some particular friend or family member might be struggling, risk reaching out through an invitation to coffee or to take a walk. Then pray for the right words to say, for patience if a response is not forthcoming, and for the Lord to hold that precious person in the palm of His hand.
Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.