Mental health is no longer a condition that is discussed quietly and in secret, as it used to be. The stigma previously associated with those suffering from some form of mental health challenge is fading. And that’s a good thing, because more and more individuals are reaching out for help.
Recently, while attending Ash Wednesday services hosted by the Titan Catholic group at Cal State Fullerton, I had a chance to chat with Fr. Aaron Riomalos, the university’s chaplain. Fr. Aaron’s role as campus chaplain is, in his words, “to take care of the formation of the students and the staff and the people working at the university.” Big job, when you consider that student enrollment at CSUF is more than 40,000.
I asked Fr. Aaron what spiritual question students most often ask. I was surprised at his reply.
“Students struggle a lot,” he said. “When they reach adulthood–at the college level–the one thing they most often ask about is anxiety and depression.”
Wow. I don’t recall those concerns in my college days. Sure I fretted over exams and grades, but fortunately I never struggled with the challenges that so many of today’s young adults face.
I asked how he counsels them.
“I tell them to hold on to their faith in God more than their fears,” Fr. Aaron said, “and to know that their community will be there to support and to love them.”
There is truly a faith community within our diocese to support anyone afflicted with mental health challenges. Two events last month addressed the mental health crisis so many face.
Our Lady Queen of Angels recently hosted “Breaking the Chains that Bind Us,” a mental health summit that featured keynote speaker Kay Warren (above) of Saddleback Church.
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, professor of ethics at UCI spoke about caring for individuals and families dealing with mental health and the pastoral response by the Roman Catholic Bishops of California.
CHOC presented “Why wait for adulthood,” stressing that we need to address the needs of O.C.’s children and youth now, rather than later.
St. John Neumann in Irvine held “Behavioral Health Training” to raise awareness and develop skills for dealing with mental health challenges. The event asked the question: “Why don’t we seek help for behavioral health disorders when we need to?”
The conversation is changing and there are more and more resources available. Now we just have to better connect them with those in need.