Health Crisis 

There is a mental health crisis in our society, especially among the young, and everybody knows it. Fr. Roger Landry, the Catholic chaplain at Columbia University, in a recent article in the National Catholic Register, cites a 2023 Center for Disease Control study which found the following: 57% of girls and 29% of boys reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless, 30% of girls and 14% of boys seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year, and 24% of girls and 12% of boys came up with a concrete plan for taking their own life. Moreover, 40% of all high school students reported not being able to engage in regular activities for at least a two-week period over the last year due to persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. These numbers, especially for girls, are drastically higher than they were about a decade ago. Landry notes that the report attributes much of the blame to the rise of social media, which foments massive feelings of insecurity about physical appearance. This has certainly contributed to the explosion in the number of adolescents (mostly girls) who report feeling disconnected from their bodies. 

But Landry argues that this is not just a mental health crisis, but a spiritual health crisis. Since 2010 religious practice among high schoolers has dropped 27%, with 13% identifying as atheist and 16% as agnostic. This loss of faith among young people brings with it a crisis of meaning. They don’t know what life is about, and question whether it has any meaning at all.  The breakdown in family structure also brings with it questions about love. Landry writes: “The trauma of divorce, the absence of father figures, the loneliness that comes from fewer brothers and sisters leading the young to try to earn friends outside the home, the competition for love and attention against parents’ new boyfriends or girlfriends can all create a crisis in the sense of feeling genuinely and stably loved. Being unconditionally and firmly loved is the real source of joy, providing hope in the midst of setbacks and contradictions.” Our shallow consumerist culture offers stuff, substances, and experiences to numb the pain of existential sadness, but these things ultimately fail because they cannot satisfy the basic human need for love. “Without love,” wrote St. John Paul II, “[man] remains a being that is incomprehensible to himself.” 

The crisis of faith and hope among young people, and the unfulfilled intense desire to experience love, is not a sustainable situation. Human beings cannot live this way for long. Landry worries that the growing push for assisted suicide will end up claiming many unhappy people, including young people, as its victims. But I think it’s also possible that people will end up seduced by spiritualities and ideologies that seem to offer purpose and meaning and belonging, but which ultimately lead to dark places. It is a very serious problem. As a spiritual problem, it demands a spiritual response. We Catholics have an abundance of tools at our disposal for the struggle, especially the sacraments and devotion to the Blessed Mother – particularly in the rosary. She continues to play a central role in Our Lord’s redemption of the world. Let us place our suffering children under her loving protection. 

posted 5/13/23

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