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A Catholic Approach to Mental Health

Tommy Tighe, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has written St Dymphna’s Playbook to help Catholics struggling with their mental health.

Born out of Tighe’s podcast of the same name, St Dymphna’s Playbook provides a practical support and concrete explanations of a wide range of mental health concerns and symptoms related to depression, anxiety, trauma, relationships, and grief. The book shares best practices for understanding and beginning to address each concern and offers a uniquely Catholic understanding, diving into relevant scriptures and introducing us to a Catholic saint or holy person who lived with the same issue—including St Dymphna, patron of those with mental disorders.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned doing a podcast about mental health?

I’ve learned that we aren’t alone. Oftentimes, when we’re experiencing mental health symptoms, we can feel like no one else could possibly understand what we’re going through. As I’ve been taking questions for the podcast, however, I’ve realized exactly the opposite is true! So many of us are walking through similar journeys, and could give each other such incredible support, if only we had the opportunity and the space to be vulnerable and share our own experiences with others.

What are the unique insights Catholicism offers in dealing with mental health issues?

Catholicism is an incredible combination of the sacred and the profane. We see this in the Sacraments first and foremost – something so simple as water can have incredible sacred power in the Sacrament of Baptism. Our Faith points us in the direction of understanding the importance of the sacred in terms of our mental health (praying to God for the strength we need to carry on, praying for healing and so on) and the profane (reaching out for help from those around us). I think this is a vital message that Catholics (and all people) need to hear when it comes to our mental health.

What are the most common issues listeners write into the podcast with?

The most common issues people are facing seem to be depression and anxiety, as one might expect. However, within this Catholic space, we talk a lot about scrupulosity and anxiety around connecting with a therapist. Catholics seem to fear that a therapist might lead them to do something contrary to their Faith, and I spend a lot of time reassuring listeners that therapists will work hard to help people coming to them within the bounds of their moral and spiritual framework.

What part of the book are you proudest of?

The section on grief is my favorite part, because it hits so close to home for me. Our experience with the death of our son put me so deep in grief and gave me a better understanding of all of my sisters and brothers who are suffering. (Editor’s note –  Tighe’s son Luke died just days after he was born in 2016.) I think grief really gives us an opportunity to grow closer to God in a way like nothing else – even though I would give anything to have not had to go through it.

What one thing could all of us do, as Catholics, to help our mental health?

We can share our experiences! We have to work to be unafraid to talk about the mental health issues we live with, the things we have done to find help and healing, and to be willing to share someone else’s suffering and walk with them through their dark valley. This transformation of our suffering into something that can help someone else is a crucial key to healing, and through sharing our experiences, I hope that we can end mental health stigma in our Church and make it a place of healing and wellness. 

Why St Dymphna?

St Dymphna is the patron saint of those with mental health symptoms and those who help them, and she’s always been close to my heart as a therapist. When she fled her father and went to Belgium, she started helping those suffering from mental illness in her new home and that impact continues to be seen in the way people with mental illness are treated in that region today – it’s an incredible story!

What connections do you see between social media use and mental health issues?

Social media use is undoubtedly causing us anxiety and depression, I see it in my own life and in the lives of so many others. It’s wonderful that we’re all connected and many of us have made great relationships and learned so many new things, but the impact social media has on our mental health cannot be just pushed aside. We have to work hard to take breaks, find and respect our boundaries, and trust ourselves when engaging in social media to make sure we’re doing so in a healthy way!

St Dymphna’s Playbook is published by Ave Maria Press and available from online book retailers now.

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