Every life matters “from womb to tomb” as the saying goes, and each family celebrates its joys and carries its burdens in different ways, but every person still matters, even those persons who must live their lives with mental disabilities.
Often hidden in families that are reluctant to discuss their struggles openly, people who suffer with a wide spectrum of mental disabilities become a focal point of this nation when they initiate tragedies like school shootings, the most recent at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
As people of faith, Catholics are called the first teachers of faith for their children. At an annual conference at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, family members were described as “first responders” to their members living with mental illness.
The conference, “When Mental Illness Hits Home,” brings together those who treat people living with mental illness and their families to discuss how to respond not only to their family members but also to those public entities with whom they come in contact.
At the August conference, Tom Smith, president of the Karla Smith Foundation, an organization that supports families affected by mental illness and suicide, said: “Mental illness is not the problem; untreated mental illness is the culprit.”
Smith pointed to mass school shootings that draw attention to issues of mental illness, but do not give a clear picture of a family that works every day to help one of its members live with a mental illness or brain disorder.
Speaker at the conference, Dr. Theodora Binion, from the Illinois Department of Human Resources, spoke of “Creating Caring Circles” for families.
“The Key to success is working with churches, communities, peers and the government is to have an authentic interdependent relationship with one another,” Dr. Binion said. “A study found that faith in god made a difference in whether people expected to get better; attitude influences how you feel.”
Dr. Binion encouraged people to hold on to hope. “Without hope, we can’t see recovery; hope opens doors to new possibilities.”
Families greet each dawn with the hope that today will be a good day, a day when their loved ones respond to a treatment or find a way to cope with whatever struggles they have.
When people trace the number of shootings, especially at schools, they must be able to see the need to find ways to help families who walk with those struggling with a mental illness.
Their lives must matter too, and ways to respond must be developed so that all can respect every life.