By Kimberly Baker
I enjoy participating in local faith-oriented "small group" events. Doing so gives me the opportunity to meet other Catholics--many of them young adults--from a variety of backgrounds, professions, and stages of their spiritual journeys. Group members sometimes share challenges in their faith or other areas of their personal lives.
Some have shared struggles with their mental health, and the other group members always respond with great compassion. Their kindness is an inspiring reminder to me of how the most ordinary of us can help build up a culture of life in the smallest ways, through awareness of--and sensitivity to--those who struggle with mental health issues, whatever the setting or circumstances we learn of these conditions.
I find it striking that such openness and courage to discuss mental health seems to be growing among the younger generations, even in an open, faith-sharing group of relative strangers. It has also helped me see that more people than we may realize have struggles that are often invisible. Based on what I have observed, when someone shares difficulties with their mental health, it can bring everyone in the group to a deeper level of understanding and a heightened respect and sensitivity for the person sharing, rather than becoming a moment of awkwardness or alienation. It can form a stronger sense of community and increase the spirit of mutual respect and support already present in the conversations.
Each one of us is precious in the eyes of God. Each one of us, as messengers of God's love, has the capacity to create positive encounters that can help reaffirm another's dignity and lighten his or her burden, especially in how we speak and act. There is no substitute for professional help, but there are simple, small things we can do proactively to be as supportive as possible for those who share their mental health concerns with us.
For example, we could educate ourselves on how best to be a supportive, affirming presence to others in general. We could familiarize ourselves with various mental health conditions and learn more specifically how to support people experiencing those conditions. We could learn what local referral resources are available or have a suicide hotline number on hand. Such steps can help us know how to appropriately respond in all our relationships, whether someone who confides in us is a family member, friend, co-worker, or an acquaintance in our local faith community.
As we live out our call to respect the sacredness and dignity of every human life, let us keep in our awareness and prayer all who struggle with mental health concerns. If we should somehow learn of someone's struggles in this area, let us, as messengers of God's love, always respond with compassion and sensitivity. Creating a culture of respect and attentiveness is incredibly life-affirming. In some cases, we may even be helping to save a life.
Kimberly Baker is Programs and Projects Coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.