Several popes in recent years have spoken or written about the importance of caring for those with mental illness, including St. John Paul II, who said during a 2003 address about depression that it is important to "stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved."
Pope Francis in 2013 said that God is in everyone's life, "Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person's life."
Furthermore, Francis' continual call to reach out to those on the "peripheries" include those who have experienced mental illness, the bishops noted.
"People who suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses are among the most misunderstood, ignored, and unjustly stigmatized members of our society. For them, our communities and parishes should be places of refuge and healing, not places of rejection or judgment," they said.
"Our apostolic work should always bring us to those who are on the peripheries of society. We must venture out to the margins, rather than waiting for the marginalized to come to us."
While recognizing the difficulty and sensitivity of discussing issues such as mental illness and addiction, the bishops urged Catholics to show that they are not afraid to accompany those who suffer.
They also said that while suffering usually does not make sense, Catholics can look to Christ for hope and healing, because he, too, knew great suffering when he was on earth.
"...we know that God never allows us to suffer alone. We believe that in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God descended to our level: He comes to meet us in our suffering, our illness and our affliction. We profess that God walked among us as one of us: In the person of Christ, he endured our human pain with us to the end. On the cross and in his agony, our Lord suffered not just our physical afflictions, but our mental anguish as well," they said.
"Out of the depths we cry to him and he reaches down into these depths to raise us up. Christ's kingdom has not yet reached its fullness, but we know in faith that it will at the end of time. On that day, all things will be made new."
The bishop's letter, in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, was posted to the website of the California Catholic Conference, along with a list of mental health resources and suicide hotlines available in California.
Catholic psychologists in your area can be found by searching at http://www.catholictherapists.com/ or at https://wellcatholic.com/. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
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