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MENTAL HEALTH WEEK 2019: Bishop Sproxton’s call to break stigmas surrounding mental health issues


Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton released a letter in conjunction with the 2019 Mental Health Week. Photo: Josh Low.

By Amanda Murthy

In a letter to parishes throughout Australia in preparation for World Mental Health Day (October 10), a hope-filled Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton cited that the challenge of the Church remains for parishes to create opportunities for people who are not used to addressing issues around mental health and their fears – without undermining and invalidating people with mental health issues.

“There are currently over 100 people reaching out in their local parish setting supporting people with mental health issues and their families in a variety of ways – for example, providing a listening ear and practical support through outreach programs as well as opportunities for people to come together in groups,” Bishop Sproxton stated.

“The Catholic Mental Health Network provides an avenue for those who are certified in mental health first aid to meet regularly and learn from one another’s experiences.

“Many priests are also looking for ways to engage in a better understanding of mental health issues and I am pleased to announce that from January 2020 there will be a course offered through the Emmanuel Centre to address this gap,” he added.


Garry McMurdo experiences the after-effects of PTSD and is bipolar. He shared his experiences with The Record last year in conjunction with Mental Health Week. Photo: Matthew Lau.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) also released a new resource in conjunction with Mental Health Day this year to aid parishes with understanding better the issue at hand.

The resource titled ‘Do Not Be Afraid – Mental Illness and Outreach: Guidelines for Parishes,’ urged Catholic communities nationwide to help shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness by caring and embracing people who suffer and providing support to their families.

One in five Australians will experience mental illness this year and when a parish or community gathers, nearly everyone there will know someone who has a mental illness of varying severity and duration, the ACBC resource revealed.

Australian Bureau of Statistics provides more data, uncovering that, 3 128 people died from intentional self-harm in 2017 – an increase of 9.1 per cent from the previous year.

Bishop Sproxton said the resource is a challenge for all Christians to be ‘authentic’ in acknowledging their baptismal call, and their gifts and presence.’

“The guidelines provide parishes with very useful information about mental illness in its various forms and the issue of suicide in Australia receives special attention.

“When your Church community gathers, nearly everyone there will know someone who has a mental illness; few will come forward, but it is there.”

Bishop Sproxton went on to say that the stigma of mental illness can be just as damaging to families and carers as the illness itself.


2018 Youth Synod revealed that mental health was the biggest issue confronting the Australian Catholic Youth of today. Photo: Amanda Murthy.

“In fact, misconceptions about mental illness often exacerbate the condition,” Bishop Sproxton stated.

“As Christians, we are called to be welcoming and loving to all. ‘We are one Body in Christ”. As one Body, we all experience suffering in one way or another and we look to God for comfort.

“Pope Francis reassures us that A God who can enter into the depths of our suffering is not repulsed by our woundedness or disfigurements, but who meets us wherever and whoever we are, heals us by bringing us ever closer to Himself,” he added.

Bishop Sproxton who is also the Disability Delegate to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, reiterated his message by calling the community to recognise that people who live with mental health challenges are ‘no less members of the Body of Christ than anyone else.’

“Obviously there are particular challenges to enabling their full participation in the life of the community,” the Bishop admitted.

“Some of these challenges are visible and many others not so clearly identified, however, once we identify and acknowledge these challenges we can work together to ensure that all the gifts that flow through the Body of Christ can be shared by each member of that Body,” he concluded.

To obtain the Do Not Be Afraid – Mental Illness and Outreach: Guidelines for Parishes resource, go to