Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Mental health as a gift

  • 03 September 2020
Over recent weeks Australian public conversation has been marked by fragmentation. Instead of discussing the shared task of warding off coronavirus and reshaping society, people have narrowed their focus to the harm done to their own social groups by the virus and the priority their own interests should have in the next stage. An earlier emphasis on cooperation for a common goal has been replaced by competition to promote sectional agendas and a search for scapegoats on whom to lay blame for losses.

In this context the recent Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement on mental health, To Live Life to the Full, offers a timely counterbalance. It comes out of a tradition that endorses the focus on the common good evident in the initial measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. At that time there was a broader emphasis on the good of the whole society, and so of each person and group in it, on the need to act boldly and to trust leaders to serve the public good, on pride in the quiet heroism of people working at risk and on the gift that people in menial occupations were to society. A romantic view, no doubt, but one that flowed out of the realisation that the health and prosperity of Australians could be secured only by self-sacrifice for the greater good.

The Catholic Social Justice Statement embodies this generous vision. Its title emphasises the gift that each human being is, and the blessing that is mental health. Health is not to be taken for granted as an entitlement but accepted and nurtured as a gift. The Statement represents a Christian vision of life lived to the full, and the network of respectful and compassionate relationships that characterise a good society. In this vision people are deeply connected with one another and with the world around them in their relationships to one another and in the shaping of their society. People care for and help one another in hard times, and those who suffer from mental illness will find respect, access to care, support and hopefully healing. It is, of course, a vision of possibility that is not realised fully in any society, Christian or otherwise. But the coronavirus initially made Australians aware that this was a necessary possibility in a time of crisis, and perhaps worth preserving beyond it. 

Looking out from the perspective of mental health as a