Catholic Day at the Capitol 2018 Intended Press Conference Address
Unfortunately, due to the deep freeze that descended upon Mississippi we were not able to host Catholic Day at the Capitol. This has been indisputable winter weather for any region of our country, although this is an experience of solidarity that we could do without.
As you may know, the critical needs of the state of Mississippi’s mental health system would have been the focus of our day within the framework of Catholic Social Teaching. These seven fundamental principles are the impetus toward a more just and compassionate social order for our families, communities, state and nation. The foundation for these guiding principles is, of course, the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. Mental illness that is poorly diagnosed or badly treated diminishes a person’s God-given dignity, and is an injustice that must be confronted. How?
Another principle of Catholic Social Teaching that is critically important for someone suffering from mental illness is the Call to Family, Community, and Participation. Even in the fullness of our strength and health, no one goes it alone in this life because we all rely on one another for life’s basic needs and blessings. But this is especially true when illness overwhelms a person and a family system, notably, when someone is suffering from mental illness that radically alters a person’s normal functioning. This is not a rare occurrence because one in five Americans will suffer from mental illness over his or her life span. This breaks down to approximately 70 million people in our nation, affecting just about all of us, directly or indirectly. Organic causes may incite the onset of mental illness, or environmental factors can shatter a heretofore stable way of life, or both.
Consider the havoc that the freezing temperatures have reeked on the City of Jackson’s water system, unaccustomed to such bitter cold. The negative impact on many residents has been pronounced. By way of analogy we can appreciate what happens when harsh realities, not experienced prior, break a person, such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, failing health, the lack of opportunity because of intractable poverty, opioid addiction, abandonment, domestic violence, or being the victim of crime. Vulnerability is the human condition and is always lurking. Whatever the source, a person afflicted by mental illness needs the support of family and friends; and the family needs the support of community services that can keep a person at home and the family intact. Moving away from the default model of institutionalization in the treatment of mental illness to a realizable “new normal” of a network of professional and compassionate services in one’s home and community is the mandate, challenge and direction for all of us to promote and develop.
This leads me to the final of the three principles of Catholic Social Teaching that are relevant to mental health, and that is the principle of Solidarity. The mental health crisis in our nation and state is enormous, and requires the commitment, resources, creativity, and collaboration of every sector of society. We can prevail if there is a steadfast spirit of Solidarity among all who can make a difference: our elected officials, our state agencies, our professional providers and social service agencies, our communities and our families.
People can and do overcome mental illness every day in order to experience the blessings of health with their family and friends, in their familiar neighborhood surroundings and at work – the essential hallmarks of a meaningful life. We call upon our lawmakers to better serve the people of our state by being a catalyst for change in our mental health system. I thank all who commit to the wellbeing and health of our fellow Mississippians.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Jackson
Director of Communications