Addressing mental health crises in the Church: one Bishop's story

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In 2019, severe depression obliged Bishop James Conley to take a year-long leave of absence. Today, he's working to help break the stigma around mental health.

Bishop Conley has no family history of mental illness. But his own struggles came to the surface when he found himself trying to handle the weight of issues in the Church on his own.

Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

Dealing with sexual misconduct with priests and also just the general situation back in 2018, with the McCarrick scandal and the release of the Pennyslvania Grand Jury report and then some other things that we're happening in my own life.
I was trying to solve all of these problems myself and thinking mistakenly that I was responsible for the outcomes of all these situations. And that as the Bishop, I needed to fix everything that was going wrong

Attempting to handle all these issues kept his brain running non-stop all night. His body and mental health eventually took an obvious toll.

Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

In 2019, I went to the Mayo Clinic to have a physical and that’s when I was diagnosed with PTSD, a form of PTSD, anxiety and major depressive disorder.

Bishop Conley began counseling shortly after and was granted a leave of absence from Pope Franics. He left his episcopal duties with the understanding and support of his parishoners and
no limit on how long it might take him to heal.

After nearly one year that included time in a retreat center, Conley resumed his duties as Bishop. He says what helped was clinging to his “three anchors”—Mass, the Rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours—as well as unwavering support from family and friends and professional direction.

Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

It was a while before I really felt like I could really function well. The first few months back were still a struggle, but I was continuing to work with a therapist and I was continuing to get help from my doctor and medications and things like that and so, slowly but surely I kind of worked through that.

It took the Bishop nearly 4 years to be able to talk about his mental illness comfortably. In May of 2024, he released an 11-page pastoral letter titled, “A Future with Hope.” In it, he details his story and the need for Catholics to overcome the stigma mental health. It reads:

I have been on my own mental health journey that has taken me to the depths of darkness and then back to a life in which I once again experience joy and even a deeper love for our Lord.

Bringing light to the mental health crisis, Bishop Conley also serves on the U.S. Bishops' Conference committee for laity, marriage, family life and youth, where one of the priorities is mental health initiatives—especially for young people.

Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

As someone once said, we live in a culture that permits everything and forgives nothing. And there’s so many demands and expectations put on young people.
There is a stigma, right? People don’t talk about it. And that’s the worst thing when you’re going through a mental health crisis, when it’s sort of just hidden and you kind of keep it to yourself, that’s the worst thing you can do.

For those struggling with mental health issues, Bishop Conley's message is this: Know that you're not alone. Know that there are people who love you and will help you. And know that you can get better.


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