Education will be through the National Mental Health Council. The council, founded in 1969, is an advocacy and education group that represents more than 3,100 mental health and substance use treatment organizations.
“They’re basically trying to educate them on what to expect and what to look for,” Dolan said. “It is strictly clinical in education; it does not focus on any of the spiritual aspects.”
The organization’s Mental Health First Aid program has trained more than 2.6 million people in the US “to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use problems.” Training covers common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges, how to interact with a person in crisis, and how to connect a person to help. Also includes content on trauma, substance use, and self-care.
The psychological sciences play a role in Catholic thought and practice, Dolan said.
“We see the science of psychology and psychiatry as a valuable gift to our human personality. We must not avoid this,” he told CNA.
The aim is not to increase the burden on the priests. Rather, they will have a resource to refer those in need. Dolan aims to have places in each of the diocese’s 15 deaneries for people suffering from mental health problems, behavioral problems, trauma or bereavement.
Dolan said he was not yet privy to the details of how the diocese’s current seminarians are being prepared.
Speaking of seminarians in general, he said “counseling is perhaps one aspect of their training” and future priests receive only “small samples” of psychology unless they take classes on the subject at their university or seminary.
A 2016 document of the Dicastery for the Clergy, Ratio Fundamentalis, discusses the formation of seminarians. It is noted that the “useful contribution” of psychology to pastoral theology will benefit the training of seminarians as future pastors.
The Office of Catholic Mental Health Ministry will also have an advocacy role. She will seek to improve government policy and increase funding targeted at mental health. Dolan said it would help “make sure mental health is at the forefront of all our conversations, especially as we see more and more people on the streets with mental disorders.”
According to the bishop, there are “a whole range of reasons” why some homeless people live on the streets, including trauma, mental disorders or substance use disorders. The simple situation of experiencing homelessness causes additional anxiety and mental problems, he added.
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The office, which will open in January 2023, has financial support from the Phoenix-based Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Responsible for organizing the new office are Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza of the Diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Dr. Maria Chavira, Chancellor of the Diocese.
Dolan, a former auxiliary bishop of San Diego, noted previous Catholic statements such as the 2018 letter from the California bishops on caring for those suffering from mental health.
He said the Catholic dioceses of San Diego, San Francisco and Orange already work to address mental health, often with the efforts of other diocesan departments. He noted the work of the University of San Diego-based Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry, which seeks to train leaders of mental health ministries at the diocesan and parish levels in the US