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Posted February 24, 2011

Hearts Made Whole: Pastoral on Behavior Health

By Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.VA
Origins. Feb. 17, 2011. Vol. 40. No. 36


In a pastoral letter released Feb. 11, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Charleston, W.VA., called for an improved response to those suffering from mental illness and chemical dependency. “As we strive to make whole the hearts of suffering brothers and sisters,” Bishop Bransfield said, “each of us is called to respond as the good Samaritan, to give with compassion and to give the best we have to offer.” A study prepared by Mental Health America ranked West Virginia among the highest in terms of rates of depression and suicide, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the state’s population is above the national average in per capita use of illegal drugs and in the nonmedical use of pain relievers. A 2007 study conducted for the West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities estimated that 182,000 adult West Virginians suffered from mental illness and 152,000 had a problem with illicit drugs or alcohol, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave the state an F grade for its response to serious mental illness in 2009. Bishop Bransfield said that while he has seen great strides in improving the health and well-being of those in need through health fairs, healthy living programs, new partnerships with Catholic Charities West Virginia and other service organizations, much still needs to be done.

Excerpts from the Pastoral:

“One area where we as a state remain ‘far from the place called health’ — especially in terms of creating an environment of mutual regard and effective care — is in our response to those suffering from chemical dependency and those living with mental illness.”

“A situation arises in the lives of some that creates a continuing cycle, eventually eroding all hope.”

“A church that heals, that mends the hearts of our brothers and sisters living with behavioral health issues, becomes for them the good Samaritan and makes a real investment of compassion and mercy in their care and recovery.”

“A special concern of Christians should be the care of children affected by the behavioral health problems of their parents.”

“In place of isolation, a caring community, inspired by the good Samaritan, creates an environment in which those in trouble or in need feel able to reveal their situation with a minimum of fear and shame.”

“I commend, where they exist, and recommend where they do not, community corrections programs in this state. Such programs allow judges to choose treatment rather than incarceration for those who transgress laws due to their impaired mental state or chemical addiction.”

“I call upon our clergy and pastoral ministers to develop the core competencies suggested by experts regarding faith communities and behavioral health.”

“As people of faith, we are called to follow the example of the good Samaritan, to respond to Christ’s call to ‘go and do the same’ for those with behavioral health issues.”

“In our parishes, preaching, teaching and faith-formation programs should encourage healthy living and practices making connections between faith and behavioral health organizations”

“Housing continues to be an issue for our brothers and sisters with mental illness or leaving treatment for addiction. The faith community can be a voice of care in the discussions regarding the solution of this problem.”

“Health including behavioral health, begins where we live, work, play and pray. May we continue to be inspired by the example of the good Samaritan: willing to see in those who are suffering from behavioral illness the neighbor truly in need of compassion and mercy. May we be willing to reach out to them, to welcome them and to do our best to make our communities, schools and parishes places in which those dealing with chemical dependency and mental illness can be supported on their journey to recovery.”

“May children find homes, neighborhoods, playgrounds, schools and churches to be places of care and safety, so that they may avoid the pressures that lead to mental ills or even chemical dependence. May children of families already afflicted by the challenge of mental illness or chemical dependency find a welcoming hand and supportive environment in our parishes and schools so that they may grow up in a wholesome way.”