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EXCLUSIVE: Archbishop Costelloe asks, Will they see in us the face of Jesus?


Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, with Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey and supporters of the Emmanuel Centre at the 2015 Christmas gathering. Archbishop Costelloe has this week encouraged all Catholics to remember that it is important to welcome, support and pray for those experiencing mental health issues, their families and people who provide support. Photo: Marco Ceccarelli.

By Jamie O’Brien

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has this week issued a Pastoral Letter ahead of 2017 Mental Health Week

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has this week encouraged all Catholics to remember that it is important to welcome, support and pray for those experiencing mental health issues, their families and people who provide support.

Speaking ahead of 2017 Mental Health Week Western Australia, which commences Saturday 7 October and includes World Mental Health Day on Sunday 8 October, Archbishop Costelloe said whatever the cause, our call, as followers of Jesus, is to care about people with mental health issues.

“The question for each one of us becomes, when we meet someone with a developing mental health issue, will they see in us the face of Jesus, or will they see someone in fear?” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“I am sure Jesus met many people experiencing mental health issues, whom he treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Week WA is 'Connect with Nature, Community and Self for mental wellbeing'. There is also a second complementary and culturally inclusive theme: 'Connect with Country, Community and you for strong social and emotional wellbeing'.

Mental Health Week is celebrated all around Australia, with each state adopting their own theme and holding their own events each year and in Western Australia is coordinated by the Western Australian Association for Mental Health with support from the WA Mental Health Commission and Lottery West.

In speaking about 2017 Mental Health Week, Archbishop Costelloe also promoted the work of Perth Catholic Archdiocesan agency the Emmanuel Centre, a self-help centre, run for and by people with disabilities and their families.

The Centre works to promote the inclusion and full participation of people of all abilities in every aspect of the community and in particular of the Catholic Church.

In a special investigation by The eRecord and the Emmanuel Centre, the latest statistics showing the rates of Australians aged 16 to 85 affected with common mental illnesses are staggering.

Emmanuel Centre Coordinator Barbara Harris and Father Paul Pitzen, Chaplain with Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said that with the population of Australia now close to 24 million, experiencing a mental health problem is a common part of being human and good mental health is something to which we can all aspire.

“Good mental health means more than the absence of symptoms,” Mrs Harris said.

“It means the ability to manage life competently and to deal in a reasonably robust way with the challenges it inevitably throws at us from time to time,” she said.

According to the Australian mental health education and prevention organisation, the Black Dog Institute, one in five, or 20 per cent of Australians, aged 16 to 85 experience a mental illness in any year.

The most common mental illnesses, notes the Black Dog Institute, are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder. These three types of mental illnesses often occur in combination.

The internationally recognised organisation dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness explains that a person with an anxiety disorder could also develop depression, or a person with depression might misuse alcohol or other drugs, in an effort to self-medicate. Of the 20 per cent of Australians with a mental illness in any one year, 11.5 per cent have one disorder and 8.5 per cent have two or more disorders.

An even further staggering figure, the Black Dog Institute notes that almost half (45 per cent) of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime

Mrs Harris also noted figures detailed in Archbishop Costelloe’s Mental Health Week Pastoral Letter, showing the rates of Australians aged 16 to 85 affected with common mental illnesses include

  • Anxiety disorders 14.4 per cent of which 10.8 per cent are male and 17.9 per cent are female
  • Depressive and Bipolar Disorders 6.2 per cent of which 5.3 per cent are male and 7.1 per cent are female
  • Substance Use Disorders 5.1 per cent of which 7 per cent male and 3.3 per cent female
  • Any mental illness 20.0 per cent of which 17.6 per cent male and 23.3 per cent of female

Speaking exclusively to The eRecord, the Archbishop went on to say that the figures and our own experience tell us that there is a growth in those affected by mental health issues due to unemployment issues, substance abuse, and as workforces operate with less people, more pressure is on remaining employees to increase their productivity with less resources.

“Instant communication methods made possible with computers and smart phones also interestingly put pressure on many people to respond straight away,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“And it is with great concern that there appears to be a rising number of our young people and teenagers showing mental health issues,” he said.

The Archbishop said he is very pleased that the Emmanuel Centre, due to a very generous donor, has for the last four years, offered scholarships for people from parishes, supported by their parish priest.

“These volunteers have learnt Mental Health First Aid and then returned to use them in their parishes,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“After completing the course, participants join the Catholic Mental Health Network and meet regularly for professional and personal development.

Mrs Harris also noted that this year these courses have extended to include indigenous people associated with the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry who are now working with aboriginal people.

“There are also 18 people who are deaf who are involved with the Ministry with Deaf and Hard of Hearing supporting people who are deaf,” Mrs Harris said.

The Archbishop explained that it is his sincere hope, that over time, every parish, school or Catholic Organisation in this Archdiocese would have at least one or two people trained in Mental Health First Aid.

“This is an invaluable contribution to our care and concern for people with mental health issues,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we too can recognise Jesus in the “Breaking of Bread” and share his compassion and love with all those we meet, especially those most in need,” he concluded.

Read Archbishop Costelloe's Pastoral Letter on 2017 Mental Health Week