Good for Body and Soul
By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies.
One in five Australians suffers some form of mental illness and as many as 45% of Australians will do so at some stage in their life. Diminished mental health is not limited to any one demographic, but older children and young adults do feature disproportionately among sufferers of low self-esteem, negative body-image, anxiety and stress, clinical depression, self-harm and suicide. Beyond Blue reports that one in seven young Australians will experience a significant mental health issue.
The rise in poor mental health may be attributed in part to increased awareness, declining stigma and increased reporting but the figures are no less disturbing. While we are increasingly aware that social factors like education, disadvantage and experiences of discrimination impact health outcomes, religion is not readily identified among the social determinants of health. However, there is a growing body of research indicating that higher levels of belief and faith practice correlate with better mental health outcomes.
Indeed, the research points to lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation where faith practice was higher. Regular attendance at a parish Mass was found to foster good mental health outcomes as it surrounded a person with spiritual, material, emotional, and social supports. Similarly, private prayer, devotional readings, and engaging with religious programming on radio, TV or streaming services enhanced mental wellbeing. And these findings are consistent for physical health and subjective well-being also.
The Church has an enduring interest in the interior life of the human person. The Catechism teaches that we believe in the life-giving presence of Christ, physician of souls and bodies. Christ is active through the sacraments, particular the Eucharist (CCC1509), which St Paul asserts is connected with bodily health and which Pope Francis reminds us “is not a prize for the just but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Faith and Church teaching instils in us the knowledge that we are created with a purpose, and infinitely loved by God who is the source of our dignity and our cause for hope. Through Baptism the Church provides us with that important sense of identity and belonging realised ultimately in the Communion of Saints. Through the Liturgy the Church provides us access to the Sacraments and offers us helpful practices such as prayer and meditation to sustain us on life’s journey.
The science may be coming in, but as Christians we know liturgy matters to the health of the body and soul. Let’s spread the Word!