Bishops publish ‘Day for Life’ pastoral letter on the theme of mental health

02 Oct 2008

2 October 2008

Bishops publish ‘Day for Life’ pastoral letter on the theme of mental health

Mental ill health can happen to anyone – Catholic Bishops


The Catholic Church in Ireland will mark the ‘Day for Life’ 2008 this Sunday, 5 October, at Masses throughout the country with a Pastoral Letter addressing an important aspect of health care: mental health.  The Pastoral, jointly published by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, has been distributed nationwide and is on 

The Day for Life is marked annually. Each year it highlights an aspect of the Church’s awareness of the sacredness of human life.  The Day for Life this year focuses attention on the issue of mental health and, in particular, on needs of those affected by mental ill-health, their family, friends, and carers. It also acknowledges the support which the parish community and the professional services can bring to those affected.

According to Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, “The Church’s annual Day for Life message seeks to highlight the value and sacredness of human life and the care which everyone in society should show for one another.  Feedback from the 2004 Day for Life theme Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide clearly indicated the need for a more widespread awareness of the importance of mental health in society as a whole.   Accordingly the Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh bishops have chosen the theme of mental health this year.

The Pastoral Letter notes: “The person in your parish community who may be suffering today is the young mum with post-natal depression, the local businessman with stress, your own parish priest, the man who has recently lost his wife to cancer or the young person who has lost faith in life, as well as someone with an obvious, severe and enduring mental illness.”

Bishop Fleming said; “Our key message is twofold: nobody is immune for mental ill health and, in the interest of the common good, every citizen has a responsibility to promote, directly or otherwise, the mental health of all the members of our society and of our local communities.  We can do this by being vigilant about promoting the mental health of those around us while not neglecting our own in the process.”

Bishop Fleming continued, “As the Pastoral suggests, none of us should take our mental health for granted. No walk of life is immune from experiencing mental health difficulties in different and varying degrees, for example: parents, young people, employees/employers, mental health practitioners themselves, clergy, and people who have experienced bereavement etc.” In particular he noted that, “as a society, we have yet to remove the lingering stigma which is sometimes attached to mental ill-health. We need to jettison the taboo around discussing the issue, and our discussions ought to be non-judgmental.”

“As part of our preparations for the Pastoral Letter we were fortunate to have received support from mental health practitioners and I would like to thank, in particular, Professor Sheila Hollins, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatry in London, and the Rev Dr Tony Byrne and Sister Kathleen Maguire of the Awareness Education Office in Cabra, for their generous help and expertise.”

Bishop Fleming concluded, “In the Gospels Christ shows His constant care for those ‘who labour and who are overburdened’.  In so doing so, in particular, He assures us of His deep care for those who suffer from problems relating to mental health.  By turning to Him in faith and prayer, miracles of grace and healing are often worked for those who suffer from ill health.  Prayerful support of those who care about the mental health of every member of the community also assists in this great work of Christian concern.  On the Day for Life 2008 we are offered an opportunity to reflect on and take stock of the issue of mental health in our society.”


Notes for Editors

  • A special web feature on is now available to mark the Day for Life 2008 on Sunday 5 October next.  It includes the full text of the pastoral letter in the English, Irish and Polish languages and background information including a link to; written prayer, reflections, audio/video recordings and blog entries on the theme of mental ill-health and the need for a Christian response; and, a Day for Life archive.
  • In his 1995 Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the late Pope John Paul II proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country”.  The primary purpose of this day should be “to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church, and in civil society, a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition” (EV #85).
  • The Bishops of Ireland responded to this invitation by announcing an annual celebration of the ‘Day for Life’.  Since 2001, Bishops have published a Pastoral Letter every October celebrating a different theme for each ‘Day for Life’.  As in previous years, the publication is a joint collaboration between the Bishops of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.
  • The Economics of Mental Health Care in Ireland, published on 19 September 2008 and commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Ireland, found, inter alia, that:

– The share of public health expenditure spent on mental health services has halved since the 1980s, falling from just under 14% in 1984 to 7.76% in 2007.
– Mental health problems cost the economy more than €3bn in 2006 or 2% of Gross National Product.
– The main costs to the economy were not in the health system but were found in the labour market as a result of lost employment, absenteeism, lost productivity and premature retirement.
– Mental health problems also imposed costs on the prison service and the social services dealing with homelessness.
– The human and social costs associated with mental health problems were not included in these estimates.
– Policymakers cannot afford not to invest in mental health.
– The Government should aim to be spending 10% of its health budget on mental health services.

  • Since 2001, the following themes have been chosen to celebrate the Catholic Church’s annual ‘Day for Life’:

2001: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life
2002: End of Life Care – Ethical and Pastoral Issues
2003: The Wonder of Life – celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II
2004: Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide
2005: Cherishing the Evening of Life
2006: Celebrating the life and presence of people with disabilities in the Church and in society
2007: Blessed is the fruit of your womb – dedicated to protecting all human life
2008: Mental Health – Mental ill-health can happen to anyone

Further information:
Martin Long, Director, Catholic Communications Office (086 1727678)

Kathy Tynan, Communications Officer, Catholic Communications Office (086 8175674)