Following a nearly year-long sabbatical to attend to his mental health, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln explained his experience with depression, seeking help, and his return to his duties as a bishop.
According to Prime Matters, the bishop discussed engagement with mental health in a Zoom interview with Dr. James Link, a Catholic psychologist based in North Dakota.
Link said it is a difficult moment for a person to realize when they require external help with mental health and began the conversation asking the bishop when he decided the time was right to tackle depression.
“What was the pivotal moment where you felt, ‘This is more than I can manage?’ he asked.
Conley said the struggle did not happen all at once, and, instead, he spent about a year-and-a-half trying to soldier through this difficult time.
While his relationship with his family has always been strong and supportive, his father was a WWII veteran and a “self-made man,” he said noting that his sister and he were instilled with a can-do attitude. He said this is how he first encountered the struggle with mental health – “to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
As the McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury scandals arose in 2018, he said a “sort of pall fell over the Church.” He then encountered local difficulties – having to remove some priests, undergo investigations into the diocese, close school parishes, and grieve the death of a young priest.
“Because I’m the bishop, I felt like I had to fix all these problems – I was praying, of course – but it was all wearing me down. I took all that pressure and stress upon myself,” he said.
“During the Second Vatican Council, when things were really uncertain in the Church and in the world, Pope St. John XXIII at night would pray, ‘Lord, it’s your Church, I’m going to bed!’ I would always advise people to do the same, but I wasn’t doing it myself. I wasn’t sleeping – and you can only go so long without sleeping. So I decided that I needed to find out what was going on.”
In March 2019, he was diagnosed with major depression disorder at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and soon began counseling and medication. However, he said, trying to pursue help on top of his episcopal duties only further deteriorated his mental state.
Finally, Conely discussed the problems with a familiar group of bishops: Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup. He was then convicted to take a break.
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