St. Irenaeus Health Ministry presented a workshop on “Understanding Depression and Suicide” on January 27th in the Parish Hall. Speakers were psychologist, Tony Nguyen, MA, LMFT, and Deacon Jerry Pyne. Margery Arnold, from the Mental Health Ministry in the Orange County Diocese, also came and distributed valuable resource materials to help families concerned about their mental health issues and that of their loved ones.

Jennifer Dagarag, RN, St. Irenaeus’ Faith Community Nurse, made a powerful introduction to the workshop by showing us artwork made by her daughter of half a face. The picture was made of broken glass that was put back together to create a beautiful impression. Jennifer said that we often only show people half of ourselves and hide the rest. The picture shows that, even though the glass was broken, it could be put together to create beauty and harmony. Likewise, one out of five American adults are affected by a mental health condition during their lifetime. However, with treatment and compassion, they can lead happy, healthy and productive lives. Unfortunately, many suffer silently due to the stigma attached to mental illness and don’t seek help.

Tony Nguyen, a Marriage & Family Therapist with an office in Tustin, also serves on the Diocese of Orange Mental Health Advisory Board. He provided shocking statistics on mental health in the United States. For example, 1 out of 25 American adults experience serious mental health issues and 17% of youth age 6 – 17 years experience a mental health disorder; 19% of American adults have anxiety disorders per year and 7% of the population have at least one major depressive episode per year.

Tony mentioned that people often respond to the depression of a loved one with unhelpful comments. Examples of these are: “Get your act together!”; “Snap out of it”; “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” and, “Just go and do something about it!” These suggestions not only lack empathy and understanding, but are difficult or impossible for the person suffering depression to do.

Symptoms of depression are varied. They include constant sadness, anger, guilt and hopelessness, social withdrawal, lack of energy, loss of interest, suicidal thoughts and poor self-esteem. Youth often blame themselves for a divorce, for instance, and feel that they have failed. Tony Nguyen provides therapy to many youth who are withdrawn and suffering.

Tony stressed that major depression is treatable. You are not alone. Treatment options include psychotherapy, medications, exercise, brain stimulation, acupuncture, meditation and faith. Tony also recommended utilizing the services of NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) that provide free services, such as peer-to-peer groups.

Deacon Jerry Pyne mentioned that St. Irenaeus has a NAMI group that meets in a classroom at St. Irenaeus School to assist families who have a member who is experiencing mental health issues. Deacon Jerry stated that you can and should ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” if you think that a person is suicidal. You may save that person’s life.

Deacon Jerry also talked about the current Catholic Church position on suicide, which relieved many people’s fears, guilt and misconceptions. The church’s teaching is that a person who dies of suicide is not in their right mind at that moment, and, therefore, did not commit sin. He mentioned that if you have cancer, you receive sympathy, but if you have mental illness, you often receive no empathy and are isolated. Those who suffer from chronic depression need the full support of the church to combat the social stigma of mental illness and a lack of community social support.

If you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Dagarag, RN, at (714) 826-0760.