By LOU PONSI     9/7/2023

The Office for Family Life of the Diocese of Orange was among the resource and service providers at the NAMIWalk that took place Aug. 26 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

The Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, commonly known as NAMI, hosts the annual event to raise funds, create awareness, foster unity and help break the stigma of mental illness.

The Office for Family Life ministry was there among many parish mental health ministry leaders, professionals and families to support the overall cause and make attendees aware of the resources and services it provides, said Rebecca Freeman, Pastoral Care Ministry Coordinator in the Office for Family Life.

“We recognize the importance of talking about mental health and trying to end stigma and raise awareness in our communities and using the lens of faith to connect to the healing process and the broader inclusion into our communities,”

Freeman said. “We have a number of NAMI support groups in our Diocese and a lot of parish leaders who are deeply involved in the organization.”

The Office for Family Life ministry joined with several faith centered groups at the event that were part of NAMI’s FaithNet Community – a collective of congregations and members of religious groups who are welcoming and supportive of individuals and families living with mental illness.

Dulce Rojas, who works at the Diocese, volunteered her time at the Office for Family Life table, in part, to provide information to members of the Hispanic community who stop by the table.

“Mental health is sometimes a taboo topic in the Hispanic community,” Rojas said. “We are sometimes taught that you’ve got to keep it quiet. I know we have a lot of people in our Hispanic community who also need that support, so I wanted to come in and be a friendly face so hopefully they come stop by and get some information. It’s not only about just God being in our life, but we also need that human and professional help.”

Several parishes within the Diocese of Orange have mental health ministry leaders, Freeman said, including several who participated in in the walk.

Florence Ruiz, a Mental Health Ministry leader at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim, was among the nearly 1,400 participants who walked the 5K distance.

“Because mental health is very much alive and it needs attention and care in the community,” Ruiz said. “And just a safe place to get together and it’s okay to feel and speak what’s in our heart and we’re not the only ones out there.”

Mental health ministries within the Diocese of Orange belong to a broader organization called the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers.

Among the founding members of the Association is Deacon Ed Schoner of the Diocese of Scranton, Penn. Deacon Schoner helped found “The Katie Foundation,” named for his daughter, Kathleen, who died by suicide in 2016.

The Diocese also offers and can help parishes coordinate Mental First Aid Trainings for ministry leaders, parents, teachers, clergy to be a first responder and connection to appropriate help for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, Freeman said.

“And our hope would be to have as many people as we can get trained,” she said. “And just, instead of just walking by, it would equip somebody with the tools to say, how do I engage this person and help them into the next step to know what to do. So that’s another very tangible thing that we’d love to see continue to grow.”

Margery Arnold, a member of the Mental Health ministry at St. John Neumann in Irvine, also participated in the walk.

“It’s so fun to go to an event about mental illness that is so lively and fun,” Arnold said. “Because usually it’s like this serious somber thing, a stigma kind of a kind thing. I also support NAMI because they have supported me and my family and my community. They have some of the best classes and the best volunteers. They’re an amazing organization.”

The OC NAMI Warmline (call or text) (714) 991-6412 is a free and confidential telephone service providing emotional support to OC residents, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The OC Chapter page for the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers provides a listing of NAMI classes (peer and family) hosted at Diocese of Orange parishes and other programs/events https://catholicmhm.org/orange.

For additional Mental Health resources, visit rcbo.org/mental-health.

Parishes within the Diocese that have mental health ministries include: St. Anthony Claret and St. Boniface in Anaheim; St. Irenaeus, Cypress; St. Joachim, Costa Mesa; St. Edward the Confessor, Dana Point; Santiago de Compostela, Lake Forest; St. Kilian, Mission Viejo; Our Lady Queen of Angels, Newport Beach; Our Lady of Fatima, San Clemente; Holy Spirit, Fountain Valley; Blessed Sacrament, Westminster; and St. Martin de Porres, Yorba Linda.