Out of the Shadows

Woman during a psychotherapy session


Maybe more cries for help would be heard if more ears were trained to hear them.

The Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministries — run by the Diocese of San Diego and USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences and made possible by a significant donation from Ed and Ruth Shoener — will train a network of clergy and laypeople to serve as mental health organizers and mental health ministry leaders in dioceses and parishes throughout the United States.

Ed Shoener, a deacon in the Diocese of Scranton, says the institute’s model is based on the Diocese of San Diego’s mental health ministry.

“The San Diego Diocese program is as good as any in the country, so we’re really looking at refining the San Diego model and taking it across the country,” he says.

Wendell Callahan, director of clinical training, professor of practice and the institute’s executive director, emphasizes the training is pastoral, not clinical.

“We’re not training therapists; we’re preparing spiritual partners,” he says. “The training of these spiritual partners includes the ability to connect people to a network of Catholic-friendly licensed professionals. We’ve also adopted St. Dymphna as our patron. She is the patron saint of mental illness and other neurological conditions, and, by extension, the patron of mental health counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists. Highlighting her patronage emphasizes that the Church recognizes the impact of mental illness and the need to address it appropriately.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge we face in ministering to people with a mental illness and their families, is that we simply just don’t talk about it, and this was created to help people have those conversations. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic ear for someone to know they aren’t alone.”

Auxilary Bishop of San Diego John Dolan says that model, developed over the years largely through the efforts of Kent Peters and Linda Areuda, is based on a fundamental assumption.

“We all in one sense or another are really just trying to hold it together,” Dolan says. “The ministry is there to accompany a person on an especially rough part of his or her walk and to listen every step of the way.”

The Shoeners are only two of the millions of people whose lives have been altered by mental illness.

Late one August night in 2016, within hours of a sheriff’s late-night knock on their front door with the news of Katie’s death by suicide, Ed sat down to write his only daughter’s obituary.

“So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness,” he wrote. “People say that ‘she is bipolar’ or ‘he is schizophrenic.’ People who have cancer are not cancer. Those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar — she had an illness called bipolar disorder. Katie herself was a beautiful child of God.”

The obituary rocketed around social media. “Deacon Ed” received messages of thanks and support from friends of Katie’s as well as complete strangers. That response, he says, helped drive the creation of the institute.

“Mental illness and suicide is a serious issue that cuts across every demographic, yet very few people know how to talk about it. Hopefully we can help bring the topic out of the shadows and make a real difference in people’s lives.” — Timothy McKernan

Learn more at www.sandiego.edu/cimhm.

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