Catholic Charities launched the Hope to Healing Initiative in 2016 after a diocesanwide study of parish priests, Catholic schools personnel and other Catholic community partners. The surveys and interviews revealed the Catholic community was in need of mental health services, particularly those aligned with the faith.
“We estimate 12% of our Catholic brothers and sisters in the diocese will be in need of some form of mental health counseling in their lifetime,” said Gloria Whitcraft, CEO of Catholic Charities. “In response, we created Hope to Healing to highlight the need and prayerfully raise the philanthropic support necessary to tackle this urgent need.”
The scope of need is sobering. There are 160,317 Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which means that at any given time nearly 20,000 are in need of mental health services.
The conditions that give rise to the need are many: depression, anxiety, addictions, challenges to marriage and family, bullying, peer pressure and more.
Whitcraft stressed that Catholic Charities counseling services are not meant to take the place of school counselors, but rather augment the valuable services they, and parish priests, already provide.
“When priests and school counselors run into situations that require a more intensive, long- term mental health response than they have the time and/or training to address, Catholic Charities is a trusted source to which to warmly hand off,” she said.
Father Jacob Meyer, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Mishawaka, said mental health counseling for parishioners is at the top of his list of needs because he sees many people with conditions he is not trained to address.
“We are trained to take care of spiritual needs and I don’t know what’s best for many of the conditions my parishioners face,” said Father Meyer. “The great blessing is that counseling can address the barriers they have to God’s grace in their lives.”
Father Meyer emphasized that many parishioners are looking for a trustworthy Catholic resource to provide professional counseling. This observation is consistent with the data from the study of the diocese.
Because Catholic Charities is the principle service organization of the Church, Catholic Charities is uniquely qualified to develop and provide these services to our sister parishes and schools throughout the diocese.
“The stigma that attaches to mental health issues is still very real, but moving in a more positive direction,” said Hope to Healing Initiative committee co-chairman Helen Nill. “Fortunately, we are changing that perception every day in the schools where our counselors work.”
Nill added that, “Many of our family members, friends, or colleagues will encounter mental health challenges at some point in their lives. As a result, we need a sustainable counseling program so we can create a more mentally healthy diocese.”
Nill said she and her committee have made a number of presentations with individuals interested in potentially supporting the initiative.
One of the unique features of the Catholic Charities counseling program is the creation of the clinical liaison position. This person works directly with parish priests and helps match parishioners with best counseling sources in the diocese. She also follows up with parishioners to see if their counselor is a good match.
At present, Catholic Charities employs two counselors: one in Fort Wayne and the other in South Bend. The organization also offers workshops on a variety of emotional and mental health topics for diocesan parishes and Catholic schools upon request.
While the Hope to Healing Initiative is in progress toward its ultimate goal, Catholic Charities is also engaged in finding unique and efficient ways to respond to the immediate needs of parishes and schools in our diocese, including co-sponsoring the Second Annual Teens and Screens. The event will focus on teenagers, their mental health and how to keep them safe with technology. It will take place Wednesday, Oct. 2, at Parkview Mirro Center, and the scheduled speakers will address cyberbullying, gaming and general addiction in the teen brain.
For more information about the Hope to Healing Initiative, call 260-422-5625 or visit http://ccfwsb.org/hopetohealing.
Nicole Kurut is the Mission Advancement Coordinator for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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