Education will come through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The council, founded in 1969, is an advocacy and educational group that represents more than 3,100 mental health and substance use treatment organizations.
“They basically try to train them about what to expect and what to look for,” Dolan said. “It’s strictly clinical in education; it doesn’t 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 U.S. “to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.” The training covers common signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and substance use challenges, how to interact with a person in crisis, and how to connect a person with help. It also includes content on trauma, substance use, and self-care.
The psychological sciences have a role to play in Catholic thought and practice, Dolan said.
“We see the science of psychology and psychiatry as a valued gift to our human person. We should not shy away from that,” he told CNA.
The aim is not to increase the burdens on priests. Rather, they will have a resource to which they can direct those in need. Dolan aims to have locations in each of the diocese’s 15 deaneries for people suffering from mental health problems, behavioral issues, trauma, or bereavement.
Dolan said he is not yet familiar with the particulars of how the diocese’s current seminarians are being prepared.
Speaking generally of seminarians, he said that “counseling is perhaps one aspect of their training” and future priests receive only “little samplings” of psychology unless they are taking classes on the subject in their university or seminary.
A 2016 document from the Dicastery for the Clergy, “Ratio Fundamentalis,” discusses the formation of seminarians. It notes that the “useful contribution” of psychology to pastoral theology will benefit seminarians’ education as future pastors.
The Office for Catholic Mental Health Ministry will also have an advocacy role. It will seek to improve government policy and increase funding that addresses mental health. Dolan said this will help “to make sure that mental health is at the front of all of our conversations, particularly as we’re seeing more and more people on the streets with mental health disorders.”
According to the bishop, there are a “whole host of reasons” why some homeless people live on the streets, including trauma, mental disorders, or drug use disorders. The simple situation of experiencing homelessness causes additional anxiety and mental problems, he added.
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The office, set to open in January 2023, has financial support from the Phoenix-based Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Those 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, the diocese’s chancellor.
Dolan, a former auxiliary bishop of San Diego, noted previous Catholic statements like the California bishops’ 2018 letter on caring for those who suffer from mental health.
He said Catholic dioceses in San Diego, San Francisco, and Orange are already working to address mental health, often under 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 mental health ministry leaders at the diocesan and parish level across the U.S.
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