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Parishes called to welcome those with mental illness


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When Deacon Tom Lambert's wife went to the hospital for open heart surgery, friends brought unsolicited meals to the family's door. "For three or four weeks, every day at six o'clock, the bell would ring and a different family would bring us dinner," he said. Those neighbors and fellow parishioners were responding to a need.

But a different diagnosis some years later garnered no response. "When our daughter was diagnosed with mental illness, no one came to the door," he said.

That was 25 years ago, and Deacon Lambert, who co-chairs the National Catholic Partnership on Disability's Council on Mental Illness, said that awareness is essential in combatting the stigma associated with a disease of the mind.

This week, Oct. 7-13, is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. In the United States, severe or persistent mental illness affects 1 in 17 Americans. The mental illness disability rate has more than doubled since the 1980s and increased six-fold since the 1950s. There are clinicians and researchers who believe the increase has been influenced by external factors. Some theorize that it is affected by a widening of the criteria for mental illness, which used to be thought of as chronic and irreversible conditions. Others attribute the rate increase in part to the requirement of a diagnosis before pharmaceutical and insurance companies will dispense treatment.

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