Author: Lisa Graas
•10/10/2002 12:10:00 PM
Catholics and Mental Illness
It was never my intention to become the internet cop for Catholics with mental illness, but no one else seems to be doing it, so here I am, yet again.
A very good traditional Catholic priest whom I admire very much and who shall remain nameless writes on his website:
"..self-absorption is usually a prime characteristic of people who are suffering from a mental illness! Autistic people, for example, are deeply self-absorbed, are they not?--sometimes so much so that it’s almost impossible to communicate with them. Those who suffer from schizophrenia or clinical depression or an eating disorder are also overly-focused on themselves in one way or another."
The good padre's intent is to preach a sermon, presumably to people who are ALL mentally healthy, on the evils of self-absorption.
Now, let it be known that I, Lisa Graas, am a Catholic who has an illness called Severe Mixed Episode Bipolar I Disorder with Mood-Congruent Psychosis. By stating this, am I self-absorbed? Should I hide this diagnosis? Should I never mention it? By mentioning it, am I being full of myself? Am I parading something? If I had cancer (I did have cancer once, but anyway...) if I had, say.....colon cancer... and if it had reached my brain and if I were having hallucinations as a result of this, or if I were screaming at the nurses due to the cancer being in my brain, would it be okay for the priest of my local parish to announce to the congregation that people who have colon cancer and suffer from hallucinations are self-absorbed? Would this be a good example to give to my fellow parishioners as I lay in a hospitable bed, lonely and rejected because my fellow parishioners think I'm just being self-absorbed and do not REALLY have an illness? Sigh. What's the point? The point is that Catholics need to be educated about mental illness. ~Love from Lisa~

A Note from a Reader --
Dear Ma'am

I do not claim to be an expert; however, in one of
your columns you quote a good priest as referring to
autistic people as ultimately self-absorbed. I find
this characterization to be questionable. From
everything I understand of the phenomenon, autistic
people are NOT self absorbed, in fact many severely
autistic people may not have any concept of self at
all. They are absorbed because they are unable to
filter information and focus on that which conveys
information. The noise of the air conditioner and the
sound of a mother's voice are both sensory stimuli
that have equal importance in the mind of an autistic
person (again, this is just from reading, so I don't
claim to know this first hand). You cannot be self
absorbed if you cannot separate your self from the
things around you.

I believe that you are correct when you maintain that
we would all benefit from greater understanding of and
sensitivity to those with mental and psychological

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