Mental health focus of Saskatoon congress

  • October 14, 2023

Clergy, pastoral staff, lay leaders and congregants in the Diocese of Saskatoon will learn how the Church can support mental health and well-being during the annual one-day diocesan Fall Congress on Oct. 19.

Marilyn Jackson, the diocese’s director of ministry services, told The Catholic Register that this forum at the Cathedral of the Holy Family fulfills an objective outlined in the updated pastoral plan unveiled by Bishop Mark Hagemoen one month ago.

“One of the six goals is to promote the healing journey of the Lord,” said Jackson. “Under that goal, one of the priorities is to promote listening, caring and accompaniment. (We are also to) support those struggling with emotional and mental health, addictions and grief recovery.”

Another motivating factor behind choosing mental health as the central subject for the congress is the knowledge that Catholics have experienced strains on their well-being because of the disruptive COVID-19 restrictions.

Bryana Russell of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, an ecumenical organization helping Christian parishes make the connection between faith and mental health, is the keynote speaker for the day. Her presentation is called “The Lord Heals the Broken-Hearted and Saves the Crushed in Spirit,” inspired by Psalm 34:18.

Russell, the engagement manager for the Vancouver-based non-profit, shared what she hopes attendees take away from her presentation.

“Overall, I hope we can all see mental health and well-being as an essential part of pastoral care for the Church,” said Russell. “Recognizing that one in four Canadians live with mental health challenges, we know that this is such a problem that people are facing, or an experience they are having, and we need to attend to it.

“It is not a problem just outside the Church. Go through the pews and count one, two, three, four. People who go to Mass every Sunday are living with mental health challenges. How do we speak well, provide accompaniment and invite people into the life of the Church in a meaningful way and how do we care for them?”

Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries advocates that changing the way we talk about mental health can spawn encouraging dividends. Specifically, the organization endorses a shift to person-first language. Instead of “schizophrenic person,” say “person living with schizophrenia,” and rather than labelling someone as manic, affirm that person is experiencing mania.

Adopting destigmatizing phrasing, according to the charity, sends a message that people cannot be defined or be reduced by mental health challenges.

Russell’s presentation will fill up the morning session. During the afternoon, she will introduce a panel discussion featuring diocesan groups providing grief support. A representative will speak on behalf of From Mourning to Dawn, a healing program for widows and widowers. Another panellist works for Transitions, which provides healing and support for the separated and divorced. The third is a local pregnancy care centre worker who will speak about post-abortion grief and trauma-informed care. Dianne Anderson, the coordinator of the diocese’s prison ministry, will relay her experiences from leading week-long grief workshops with inmates. Russell will speak about grief after suicide.

Jackson said the congress provides an ideal platform to unveil a new pastoral ministry.

“It is called Red Bird Ministries. It is support from a Catholic perspective for couples and individuals who have lost a child from miscarriage up to adulthood. We should be able to begin offering this program by next January," said Russell.

Red Bird Ministries was founded in 2018 by married couple Ryan and Kelly Breaux of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, who tragically lost three children: a son by miscarriage, a son at 15 days and a daughter at three years old. They founded their organization to accompany parents as they bear their extraordinary cross of grief. 

In addition to launching Red Bird Ministries, the diocese also intends to encourage parishes to incorporate Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries’ Sanctuary Course for Catholics into parish life. This eight-session study guide strives to raise awareness and spark conversations about mental health and faith.

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