I remember very clearly one of the first times I had to think about how mental health and Catholicism relate.
When I finished high school, I decided to stop seeing my group of friends. I had realized that they were bullying me and tearing me down, and I used the chance of graduation to remove that negativity from my life.
I hope and pray that they are doing well now, but when I stopped hanging out with those friends, I realized that my friendships in that group had left me wounded and in need of healing. I believed lies that I wasn’t good enough, that my problems didn’t matter, and that no one cared about me because of their bullying.
I turned to the Lord, and He very generously showed me that to heal, I needed to learn better the truth about how He sees me and to work through the residual negative effects of those friendships with Him to combat these lies I was believing. As I went through that process, I experienced a renewal of my mental health.
From that experience, further research, and my study of psychology, I have learned that two things-learning the truth and healing from lies-are vital to our mental health, especially from the perspective of our Catholic faith. In this article, I will explain those ideas about mental health and Catholicism, how our mental health impacts every other part of us, and how we can improve our mental health.
Resources List for Mental Health and Catholicism
Before we begin, here is a list of resources to help you better understand and implement this definition of mental health and Catholicism:
Mental Health and Catholicism: An Integrated Definition
The definition of mental health that is used in the Radiant as the Son progression has two components:
- Learning and living out the truth
- Healing from lies and their effects
A good image for this definition of mental health is an army setting up a barricade against incoming enemies. The barricade building is learning the truth, as it protects against the lies that surround us.
However, even as the barricade goes up, enemies may still find their way inside or may have already found their way across the lines before the barricade comes up. Finding these hidden enemies and kicking them outside of the barricade represents healing from lies.
Learning and Living Out the Truth
Below are a couple of reasons that the truth is important:
- In Loved as I Am, Sr. Miriam James Heidland writes that God created us for truth, goodness, and beauty. Here, I would like to emphasize the truth. Because God created us for the truth, we must learn and know the truth. This definition of mental health recognizes that fact.
- Sr. Miriam also writes in Loved as I Am:
“If we don’t know where we came from and where we are going, we will be easily manipulated.”
This quote also points to a need to know the truth, for if we do not know the truth, we can easily fall prey to the lies Satan whispers in our ears.
- Our thoughts are important because they determine our behavior and feelings, as Dr. Sarah Edelman writes in Change Your Thinking. When we know the truth, it permeates our thoughts, thus allowing the truth to influence our behavior.
- Finally, Jesus points to this need, as Sr. Miriam writes in Loved as I Am. Jesus was free to love and speak the truth in His life because He knew His true identity and lived from it. He based His identity in the truth found in God, in His being God’s Son. We must follow the model of Jesus, which includes following this model of knowing and living by the truth.
Pulling this all together, we know that an essential aspect of mental health is knowing the truth that God speaks to us about ourselves, others, and God and striving to live out of this truth.
Healing from Lies and Their Effects
As Christians, we believe that Satan is the father of lies. He bombards us with these lies. When things happen, when we are wounded, or when we choose to listen to these lies, these lies and living out of them wreak havoc on our lives.
A form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on this. The book Change Your Thinking explains how this understanding is the basis of CBT. The founder, Aaron Beck, believed that some cognitions, or maladaptive thinking, can lead to distress. These thoughts are often irrational or not based on truth. CBT aims to help the client understand that certain thoughts are irrational and choose to live by their rational version.
While not all of us need to go through this type of therapy, the premise of the treatment still holds for all of us. To truly flourish when it comes to our mental health, we need to identify the lies that we live by and combat them with the truth.
Because of this, the two components of mental health are in a cycle. Often, learning the truth makes us aware of lies that we believe. Becoming aware of our wounds requires us to learn the truth to heal.
How Mental Health Affects Body and Soul
There are three types of health in the Radiant as the Son progression:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Spiritual health
All of these types of health affect each other, for better or for worse. These effects happen because all aspects of ourselves form one whole being (CCC 365), so one part influences the whole person.
Mental health affects how we see our bodies, which then affects how we treat our bodies. Therefore, if we live by lies, we live by distorted, harmful images of our bodies, leading us to treat them in ways that are not in line with physical health needs. For example, if we believe that our bodies are only good if they look a certain way, we may choose to diet and exercise in ways that are not the best for our unique bodies.
Here at Radiant as the Son, physical health also includes community with others. Our beliefs about others affect how we relate to them, and these beliefs come directly from our mental health. For example, if we believe that people are not to be trusted (a lie), then we may not be vulnerable with others or even shy away from relationships.
Therefore, taking care of our mental health is very important for our physical health.
In Change Your Thinking, Dr. Sarah Edelman describes how faulty cognitions can lead to communication problems in relationships with others. This effect is not only true on a human level, but on the level of our relationship with God, too.
For example, if we believe that God does not care about our problems, we may become reserved in our prayer.
Therefore, our mental health is also essential for our spiritual health.
How Mental Health Affects Virtue
In the Radiant as the Son progression, our health then either allows us to grow in virtue or hinders our growth in virtue. Because our thoughts affect our behavior, our mental health greatly impacts our pursuit of virtue. Therefore, taking care of our mental health is essential. When we know the truth, we know what is good to pursue. When we are seeking healing, we act on what is good instead of out of woundedness.
Possible Habits for Growing in Mental Health
Habits for Learning the Truth
It is important to go to the source of all truth-God- to learn the truth. We can go to God to know the truth in several ways, such as through Scripture, the Catechism, and spiritual writings.
Here are some ideas for incorporating those sources of truth into your life:
- Reading the Mass readings every day
- Following a Bible or Catechism in a Year plan
- Reading a chapter of a spiritual book a day
It is also important to incorporate habits that reinforce this truth. If we read something and do not allow it to take root, it will slowly slip away. Here are a couple of ideas for reinforcing the truth:
- Memorizing Scripture
- Practicing Catholic mindfulness
- A gratitude practice.
Healing from Lies
Habits for pursuing healing should involve both exposing the lies we live by and then actively combating them.
Below are a couple of habits for doing so:
- A journaling practice. Then, you can combat any exposed lies with Scripture or by sitting in prayer and listening to the Lord’s response to those lies. This type of practice often occurs in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which Dr. Sarah Edelman goes into in Change Your Thinking.
- Therapy (Be not afraid! If you have deep-seated wounds, therapy is a great way to pursue healing.)
- Healing retreats, such as those offered by the JPII Healing Center.
I hope that this article has encouraged you to pursue habits to improve your mental health. If you would like some guidance regarding creating habits, subscribe to the email list below. You’ll receive a free workbook that you can use to choose and plan a healthy habit.
If you would like to read more about mental health, I recommend the following books:
- Change Your Thinking by Dr. Sarah Edelman. This book goes into the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and several habits for applying these principles
- Loved as I Am by Sister Miriam James Heidland. This book is a beautiful story of the Lord working to heal and offers reflections for your healing journey.
Finally, check out these articles to learn more about the Radiant as the Son progression.