Faith can't cure mental illness
Thursday, January 14, 2010
By Online Editor
By Anna Weaver, author of Through a glass darkly: How Catholics struggle with mental illness. This is the first of U.S. Catholic's guest blog posts. We have asked our writers to provide some insights they've gleaned from reporting on a particular subject for us.
One of the first lessons I learned as a college freshman in my introductory journalism class was to remain as unbiased as possible in my reporting. That's the attitude I tried my best to take in writing "Through a Glass Darkly" for U.S. Catholic. It wasn't easy.
I approached this piece about Catholics experiencing mental illness with a personal connection to the subject. Halfway through college, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a medication I was taking to curb depression caused me to have a manic episode. Later on I was re-diagnosed with major depressive disorder , which I continued to deal with the rest of my time at school and for a period of time afterward. When the idea of researching and writing about an all too familiar condition arose, I felt I had to pursue the opportunity.
It was easy to relate to fellow Catholics struggling with some of the same things I did while writing this story. I'm a cradle Catholic whose family attended church regularly as I was growing up. I also had been very involved in my college's Newman Center up until I first started feeling depressed my sophomore year. Yet, my faith did not at first provide solace.
It was hard for me to have other Newman students ask why I was slacking off in volunteer work or involvement at the center when I could barely get out of bed some days. If I had been physically ill, it would have been much easier to talk about my sickness and be able to feel like people understood my situation than it was to come out and say, "I'm depressed."
When I finally sat down with the Newman Center's chaplain, we had a heart-to-heart that made me feel much better about the overlap of my faith and my health. My own experience, coupled with what I would later find out, demonstrated to me the importance of having an understanding priest.
In talking with the sources in my story, I never brought up my own background. I wanted them to be able to share whatever perspective they had without an assumed bias on my part. I've wondered since finishing the piece how sharing my own story might have changed things. But my J-school training told me to let their stories be on their own. In the end, I hope it helped to paint a more realistic portrait of their life experiences.
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