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Mental health support comes to the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria

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Struggling with mental illness — depression, mania or any form it takes — can make one feel alone in the midst of a crowd.

Young adults in the Diocese of Arlington have a place to turn for support in the new Labré Community at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria. Parishioner Kirsten Marie Obadal started the group to let young adults know they are not alone.

“I began to think it is necessary to have a model of mental health recovery that reflected the Catholic understanding of the human person,” she said.

Father Edward C. Hathaway, rector, said it’s important to support all who are suffering from illnesses.

“One way we can do that is through the Labré Community,” he said. “I hope people are able to come and support the events we have for the sake of all God’s children, but in a particular way for those who suffer from illnesses of the mind.”

Obadal is no stranger to those illnesses.

“I have lived experience with mental illness and I don’t mind saying so,” she said of her chronic major depression. “I think the more we can bring these things out into the open and not regard it as a source of shame, we can bust through the stigma that prevents so many people from getting the recovery they need.”

A mental health awareness breakfast will be held at St. Mary Jan. 6. The cider and donuts event will introduce young adults to the Labré Community and there will be fellowship and prayer.

A day of prayer, scheduled for March 16, will begin with Mass, and Father Kevin Barnekow, a priest in residence at the basilica, will give a presentation on suffering.

Obadal said secular psychology doesn’t know what to do with the topic of suffering. “If you can’t embrace suffering, pretty soon you fall into self-pity,” she said. “Once you fall into self-pity you are walking a downward slope toward self-harm. Suicide is a big issue for young adults with mental illness.”

Obadal said secular models recognize the role of faith is important in continued recovery. “As a Catholic, I have realized faith is not only important, it is essential,” she said. “For young people to be in mental health recovery, they need to have a place and source of hope in their lives. If we place our hope in a person or a thing, sooner or later we are going to be disappointed. The only true hope is in our risen Lord.”

Obadal is training to be a peer support specialist. Peer support doesn’t replace therapy or other interventions. “It works in tandem with all of these things,” she said. “Recovery is different for everyone, but a peer support specialist can be a companion or coach on your journey to recovery.”

Peer supporters are required to demonstrate one year of recovery to be a role model of recovery. For certification in Virginia, specialists need to have completed 500 supervised hours in the three years prior to applying for certification, and receive 75-90 hours of training.

Obadal started a Facebook group — The Labre Community: Spiritual Support in Mental Health Recovery — as an intercessory prayer community to communicate with others and coordinate future events.

“What I seek is the support and companionship and prayer intercession of Catholics who experience mental illness who also are in this geographic area,” she said. “I know we can support each other in our recovery with prayer, and I look forward to meeting them at these events.”

Find out more

Contact Kirsten Marie Obadal at stlabresociety@gmail.com or join the Facebook group: The Labre Community: Spiritual Support in Mental Health Recovery.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018