A listener named Kelly explains that her 18-year-old daughter has stopped attending Mass and youth group due to her anxiety. She asks how she can help her daughter in her faith life without triggering her anxiety.
Brett suggests seeking professional help. “The number of people who are having depression and anxiety are skyrocketing, but particularly among 18-year-olds,” he says. “It’s an epidemic of depression and anxiety. I would suggest therapy to try and identify what the root is.”
Father Dave points out that the Church encourages a variety of approaches to help with mental health issues. “Certainly as the Catholic Church, we would encourage taking advantage of the mental health sciences, whether it’s therapy or medication.” Father Dave shares how our faith can also comfort. “I would imagine that the gifts of the Holy Spirit of love, joy, peace, self control, and patience are actually beneficial. So, focus on some of those prayerfully, in addition to whatever else she does to mitigate or deal with her anxiety. That might be a way back in. Because it’s not like ‘I insist you must go to church and listen to the homily,’ but let’s find some things that might actually be helpful or at least not harmful and produce anxiety. Find some neutral things about our faith, and let that be the first step in, or the first foot through the door, rather than ‘You need to be going to church every Sunday.’”
Christina responds, “I had never experienced anxiety until about a year ago. I felt like there was a constant weight on my chest at all times. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I lost all of my appetite. It’s like this underlying thing that follows you all day no matter how much you try and turn it off. Something that I found helpful with the help of my spiritual director was meditating on Scripture. Taking time and silence and having imaginative experiences to take me out of my own mind and put myself in the scenes of the Gospel. It’s Ignatian Meditation. Reading the Scriptures, placing yourself in that scene of imagining the people that are there, the smells, the sounds, the sights, all of those things. I find that very helpful in terms of getting out of my own head. Maybe that is something that she can try that will connect her a little bit deeper with her faith when she feels a little bit far away.”
Father Dave reflects both angles of help. “Illness is an illness. We look at it in the same way the Church would look at any other illness, physical or whatnot, that would prevent us from going to Mass. We, as Catholics, tend to focus on getting this person to Mass. While that’s important, if your daughter had two broken legs and was tied up in casts, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, I’ve got to figure out how to get her back to Mass.’ You would figure out how to help her heal and make sure that her spiritual life was taken care of in that healing. And when she’s healed, hopefully returning to Mass will be a part of that.”
If you or a loved one is ever experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line +1(800)273-8255. And consult these resources if you are concerned for yourself or another.