St. Irenaeus Health Ministry hosts mental health experts at parish workshop

By Rosemary Lewallen     2/20/2020

St. Irenaeus Health Ministry presented a workshop titled Understanding Depression and Suicide on January 27 in the church’s parish hall. Speakers included psychologist Tony Nguyen, MA, LMFT, and Deacon Jerry Pyne. Margery Arnold, from the Mental Health Ministry in the Orange County Diocese, also attended and provided valuable resource materials to help families concerned about how mental health issues may be impacting 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. The picture featured a part of a human face that 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 and 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 percent of youth age 6 – 17 years experience a mental health disorder. Nineteen percent of American adults report anxiety disorders each year and 7 percent of the population has at least one major depressive episode per year.  

Nguyen shared that people often respond to the depression of a loved one with unhelpful comments including telling the individual to “Get your act together,” and “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” These suggestions, says Nguyen, 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. Nguyen provides therapy to many young people who are withdrawn and suffering. 

He stressed that major depression is treatable. Treatment options include psychotherapy, medications, exercise, brain stimulation, acupuncture, meditation and faith. Nguyen also recommended utilizing the services of NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) that provides free services, such as peer-to-peer groups.  

Deacon Jerry Pyne shared 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 end up saving 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. 

For questions about mental health, please contact Jennifer Dagarag, RN, at (714) 826-0760.