The tenth resource is that Christian faith is a wellspring of hope without which the human spirit disintegrates. Evidence for this comes from the studies of a psychiatrist who carried out a long term study of 800 suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. The most dangerous factor he identified was their sense of hopelessness (See A. Kheriaty, The Catholic Guide to Depression, 99).
Many believers who suffer from mental illness testify that had it not been for the hope that comes from their Christian faith, they may not have survived. Countless people of faith have seen in their suffering the seeds of a future of hope - that the sorrow they experience will give way eventually to joy: ‘You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy’ (Jn. 16:20). This is not a form of wishful thinking that consoles us in present misery but a real act of faith that sees mental suffering as a participation in Christ’s mental anguish that precedes a participation in new life in the future and a call to embrace a deeper love in the present. For the Christian, the Gospel gives us hope and gives life a trajectory towards that definitive future. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: ‘the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal’. For this reason ‘the one who has hope lives differently’ (Spe Salvi, 1). Unlike many other root causes of physical and mental illnesses, there is no prescription or medical cure for a lack of hope. The only hope for a lack of hope is supernatural – the theological virtue of hope which can be infused only by God’s grace that comes with faith.
In conclusion to this series that has looked at the subject of faith and mental health, according to psychiatrist Andrew Sims, ‘the advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally’ (A. Sims, Is Faith a Delusion?, Preface, xi). These reflections have sought to tease out ten advantageous effects of Christian faith for mental health – God’s unconditional love that is available to all; that God’s love confers on us a basic identity that reveals who we are; that faith is a source of meaning; that every human experience including mental anguish has been assumed and redeemed by God in Christ; with faith in Christ comes the power of forgiveness and the power to forgive; being drawn into a supportive faith community where we are not alone; that faith highlights the link between living a virtuous life a healthy mind; that faith moves us towards the right order necessary for peace and tranquillity; with Christian faith comes a life of prayer and ritual, essential for mental health and well-being; that Christian faith brings hope that lifts the spirit towards new horizons.
Our hope is that these thoughts will lead to a new awareness in the Church of the benefits of faith to mental health and a renewed confidence to contribute confidently to this important debate.
A PRAYER IN TIME OF DESPAIR BY ST IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness
and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence,
Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
in Your protecting love
and strengthening power,
so that nothing may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You,
we shall see Your hand,
Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.