We just completed National Suicide Prevention Month (September) but the need for mental health awareness continues year-round. Suicide is a traumatic end to a mental health struggle, and Catholic Charities of Kansas City St. Joseph seeks to provide tools and support to individuals and families struggling with mental health challenges.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, CCKCSJ has launched a new program to promote peer support groups in parishes for families who are facing these issues. Marie Justin, Parish Mental Health Ministries Coordinator at CCKCSJ, talked about the importance of this position and the impact it will bring to the community she will be serving.
“I want to develop a sense of community in [their] parishes and a sense of inclusiveness.” Justin said. “I want it to feel like they have people they can go to and discuss their walk with God as they are bearing this cross of whatever mental health issue that they have going on.”
Everyone in their life deals with mental health (seen or unseen) and struggles to some degree. Just like with our physical health, how we respond can make all the difference. That is what this program strives to do is bring comfort to everyone in the parish community no matter their current circumstance.
Justin said that the biggest goal she has for the position is assisting “10 parishes as they establish to have faith sharing groups for struggling individuals and groups for their family members/caretakers.”
“The resource guide I am going to come up with will include things like books, podcasts and local Catholic therapists.” Justin said. “The Sanctuary course is one that we are talking about being a really good foot in the door for people to understand what is going on and the importance of why we are having these groups.”
The important thing Justin wants people to take away is the benefits that “faith-based” mental health treatment offers compared to other treatment protocols.
“In the secular society there is more of a focus on making certain treatments the cure or relying too much on humans to fully heal someone. They don’t have that faith aspect where they can rely on a higher power to help heal them in any way. So, there is a little bit more pressure, maybe put on themselves or sense of hopelessness that this is just how it is always going to be” Justin said. “In the Catholic world, there is more of a focus on the spiritual side of things. Sometimes mental health is overly spiritualized, and Catholics don’t seek out a therapist because they believe they just need to have stronger faith and their struggles will go away. The goal of these ministries is to show how we have the spiritual components and the use of treatments together. It’s like a “therapy and Jesus” kind of thing instead of ‘therapy or Jesus.’”
Justin says Scripture and the praying of the rosary are key components of how you can integrate this into your mental health journey.
“In the Sanctuary course, they recite Psalm 42 quite a bit. So, I think having powerful scripture verses to pull out when you need them is very helpful” Justin said. “One of the things I’ll be helping leaders come up with is activities for their meetings. I think the rosary is very important because it has both the physical and spiritual aspects of moving across the beads. That’s a very powerful prayer for anyone who is struggling with poor mental health”.
The association funding her position (Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers) also suggests a burning ceremony where they write down whatever they are struggling with and then once a month they burn those pieces of paper, the smoke rising is symbolic as a prayer rising to God.
“I think that it is really powerful in mental health treatment to have really physical, but symbolic things for us to do to bring healing and a sense of relief.”
Justin said a key part of helping people manage their mental health struggles is to find support in a peer group designed to help them be open to whatever it is they may be going through.
“Both courses really emphasize the importance of recognizing that we are not the healthcare professionals, and we are really there to walk with them” Justin said. “We’re not leading them, and they are not leading us, but we are really walking with them as they continue their walk to the Lord and as they are going through their recovery process.”
Justin noted the stigma that surrounds individuals challenged by mental health issues.
“I think if we can have events and have the clergy speaking out on it that would be really helpful because it is just as common as any physical illness” Justin said. “Having an emphasis on talking about mental health and normalizing it so people don’t isolate themselves because they don’t want to feel judged would be helpful for people to come out and feel like they can have a community of support.”
Justin said her own journey with mental health has been improved by letting over control to God and finding supportive community and hopes that other people can find that as well.
“Recognizing how our bodies hold trauma and how we can fully process and heal from those traumas is so needed. It’s important for me to be whole and be who God created me to be. I’ve seen how doing art therapy and various forms of treatment can be incredibly healing so I can be like that carefree, childlike person that God created me to be instead of being fearful and anxiety ridden” Justin said. “I’ve been just trying to reconnect to things that bring me joy and going at a slower pace. Not trying to live by a schedule and enjoy being in the present moment.”
Justin believes she is in the perfect place to use her skills, helping individuals find healing and faith in God at the same time.
“I enjoy being able to combine the project coordination part and the mental health aspect. I love coming up with things to do to help other people and this is the perfect opportunity to do that” Justin said. “This is way bigger than just me. I have everyone at Catholic Charities. We’re working with the Diocese, both the Respect Life Department as well as the Marriage and Family Department. Getting to see that this is truly God’s work because so many people are coming together to do it. This being a Catholic mental health ministry is huge for me because I don’t have to jeopardize any of my beliefs, or my faith but am encouraged to bring that into it to help people find healing and peace.”
You can reach Marie Justin by:
For more information, please check out:
JPI Healing Center for books, podcasts (such as Restore The Glory), and other resources at: https://jpiihealingcenter.org/
The Center For Healing for access to Catholic therapists: https://centerforhealingkc.com/