Phoenix bishop opens up about family history, details new mental health ministry

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Amid a spike in suicides and rising rates of depression, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is ​​creating a mental health ministry. It is possibly the first time a diocese has done this.

Bishop John Dolan said his brother had long suffered from mental health illness. He also lost a brother and a sister to suicide. So he believes there is a need there and wants to help. “In the 70s, nobody talked about suicide,” Bishop Dolan said.

He explained that he was in the 8th grade when his older brother, Tom, took his own life. “You just bury it; you just go with it,” he said.

Then years later, while he was in Seminary, his sister, Teresa, died by suicide. He said that when her husband learned of her death, he also killed himself. “The church was there in the beginning. It didn’t offer — it didn’t have a systematic program to continue to meet our needs,” Bishop Dolan said.

He wants to change that. But, he admits, it took a lot of time, a lot of reflection, research and advice for him to come to terms with all of this.

During his work in San Diego, he met others who faced similar challenges. That’s why he’s starting a mental health ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix. “We are not here to diagnose or prescribe or even treat. We are just here to accompany and let people know they are loved. So the whole process is about love, it’s not about treatment,” he explained.

As part of it, priests and deacons will receive additional training. In addition, at least 15 churches in the Diocese will also offer support groups.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix held its first memorial Mass for those who died by suicide earlier this month. They planned to read the names, which soon went from a hundred to more than a thousand. “Only because they showed elements of disorder that would not be forgotten,” Bishop Dolan said.

He hopes that by sharing his story, he can encourage others. “Now I’ve been able to let people know hey, a bishop, a Catholic bishop, has had to navigate through family disorder,” he said.

The diocese plans to hold a ribbon cutting for the new office in December. It is expected to open in January.

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