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Fr. Gerard’s Weekly Column: 4/14/24

As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling.

Going to sleep at night can be a challenge. While it may be easy to close our eyes, and our body longs for the physical rest, the mind does not willingly turn off. Preoccupation with tasks that need to be done, concerns for the wellbeing of others as well as financial or employment worries are some of the things that weigh heaviest when our heads hit the pillow. What is often overlooked however is that the loss of sleep is an indicator of mental health challenges. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), over 50 percent of adults say their anxiety levels affect their ability to get to sleep at night. According to studies by National Institutes of Health links between sleep and depression are strong. About three quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms, and hypersomnia is present in about 40% of young, depressed adults and 10% of older patients, with a preponderance in females. The symptoms cause huge distress, have a major impact on quality of life, and are a strong risk factor for suicide. In this context, the words that I quoted from today’s psalmist are a fleeting reality for many, especially those who are struggling with their mental health.

In 2002, Pope Saint John Paul II addressed an international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care on the theme of “Depression.” In that talk he said that the spread of depressive states had become disturbing. He noted the good work that was being done by health care professionals and he acknowledged that these specialists stressed that depression is always a spiritual trial.

The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live. It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved. For them as for everyone else, contemplating Christ means letting oneself be “looked at” by him, an experience that opens one to hope and convinces one to choose life.

Saint John Paul went on to encourage the reading and meditation on the Psalms, in which the sacred author expresses his joys and anxieties in prayer. The recitation of the Rosary and participation in the Eucharist, he said, provide a source of inner peace, because of the presence of our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the community of the church.

One might read the words of the psalmist and think we are being told to simply pray the pain away. This is not the case. The Church along with the medical and health resources of society, work together to provide people, and especially youth, with examples and experiences that can help them to grow on the human, psychological, moral, and spiritual levels. From this perspective the late pontiff said, “The role of the family, of school, of youth movements and of parish associations is very important because of the effect that these realities have on the person’s formation.”

We all long to peacefully sleep secure in the Lord. Taking advantage of what the Lord provides through medicine, science and the church will help that desire to become a reality. For more information from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers go to www.catholicmhm.org

FIAT Pregnancy Support Program Catholic Health, in partnership with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is a dedicated help line designed to assist callers in accessing the counsel, resources, and encouragement needed to choose life when facing a pregnancy with unexpected or difficult circumstances. It is available 24×7, 365 days of the year to any woman regardless of age, religion, immigration status or ability to pay. The FIAT phone number is 631-476-LOVE (5683).

It is a hope that the FIAT Pregnancy Support Program will be the first call a woman makes when facing a difficult situation and does not know where to turn. Your assistance is needed in promoting the FIAT Pregnancy Support Program. Every Catholic in our diocese ought to know about this program, how to access it, and when to refer herself, a friend, family member, etc. – that is, to call (631)476-5683 any time, any day, for any pregnancy-related stress, including pregnancy loss.

Peace!

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