Mental health a priority: Vatican

In 2016, at the age of 29, Deacon Ed Shoener’s daughter Katie died by suicide. She had wrestled with bipolar disorder for over a decade, Vatican News reports.

Katie’s death prompted Deacon Shoener to begin advocating for mental health awareness within the Church. He soon founded the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, a non-profit that supports parishes and dioceses in establishing mental health ministries.

Deacon Shoener shared this story at a first-of-its kind conference in the Vatican last month, which brought together individuals active in Catholic mental health ministry across the globe.

Participants included Vatican officials, representatives from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, and individuals working on the frontline in Moldova, India, South Africa and elsewhere.

Monsignor Anthony Ekpo, Undersecretary at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was the first to speak.

He said that mental health has become a priority for his Dicastery following its conversations with local churches around the world, which often voice major concerns about the issue.

Particularly worrying, Msgr Ekpo said, are the human rights abuses sometimes committed against those with mental health challenges.

He also noted the connection between mental health and climate change, a key cause area for his Dicastery: anxieties and concrete difficulties related to the climate emergency, he said, can greatly aggravate mental health problems.

As a counter-measure, Msgr Ekpo suggested what Pope Francis calls the “ecology of daily life”. This idea, he explained, is taken from the Pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, and involves paying attention to the environments we live in, and the way they “influence the way we think, feel and act.”

There is a real shortage of mental health professionals across the globe, noted Bishop John Dolan from the US Diocese of Phoenix. For this reason, he said, it is very important that the Church attempt to step into the gap and provide assistance to individuals who would otherwise receive none.


Vatican holds first-of-its-kind mental health conference (Vatican News)