Contributors Reaching out

None of us is immune from mental illness. Help us help

Tom Racunas is the lead consultant for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry. He can be reached by email at:

by Tom Racunas

In St. John’s Gospel, it is written: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (10:10).

For Catholics with mental illness and their families, the stigma, shame and shunning they experience creates a barrier to growing as disciples of Jesus, meaningful participation in the life of the church and living life “more abundantly.”

None of us is immune from mental illness. Life is difficult. This has certainly never been truer for many of us than in the past year. We all have experienced times when our mental health is not what we want it to be or what it should be.

It is a natural part of the human condition to experience periods of depression, anxiety and stress. For some of us, these periods are episodic and we experience mild to moderate symptoms. But for others of us, these periods are chronic, and the symptoms are severe and persistent.

During this year of the pandemic, while we have heard much about how to keep ourselves safe and healthy physically, there has been little attention paid to how to keep ourselves mentally healthy amid the crisis.

Indeed, prepandemic data confirmed that 25% of adults in the U.S. suffer some symptoms of mental illness every day. Since the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that number has risen to 40%. Symptoms of trauma-related disorder, substance abuse and suicidal ideation are significantly higher, and symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress are more severe.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” So, what can we as the Catholic Church in northeast Kansas do to support each other when our mental health is thrown out of balance?

How, especially, can we respond to our brothers and sisters who experience severe and persistent mental illness and support their families?

Fully Alive, an integrated (mind, body and spirit) wellness initiative, was introduced at the Enflame convocation in October 2019.

The vision for Fully Alive is to create opportunities for parishioners to engage in a variety of activities that enhance their spiritual, physical and psychological well-being. It is a wellness model based on combining the Catholic tradition of faith and reason through offering the gifts of Catholic health professionals.

Recently, leaders of the Fully Alive initiative formed a chapter of the Association for Catholic Mental Health Ministers and received a grant from that association.

Grant funds will provide mental health literacy training for priests and deacons, provide mental health literacy training and accompaniment training to interested staff and parishioners, and create mental health ministries within willing parishes. Please pray for the success of this effort. St. Dymphna, patron of those with mental illness, pray for us.

If you would like to know more or if the Holy Spirit is calling you to get involved, please contact me at:

About the author

Tom Racunas

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