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She thinks there's been a vast improvement in the "sensitivity and sophistication" of understanding mental illness, but that church outreach in that area has taken more time compared to the outreach to those dealing with physical disabilities.

"It is way easier to build a ramp than it is to deal with a person who comes to church talking to herself, which might be a manifestation of some of the more severe symptoms of mental illness," she says.

Like many working in Catholic mental illness advocacy, Lambert, the deacon from Chicago, has a personal connection to mental illness.

His daughter was diagnosed with a serious mental illness 20 years ago, and he and his wife first sought resources through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a leading nonprofit organization that was founded in 1972.

"It wasn't even known to people immediately around her where she went." On the flip side, Kehoe recalls the public nature of a Cambridge-area pastor who took leave for a few months.

Upon his return he announced to his parishioners that he was experiencing depression and would be stepping down to serve a smaller parish and continue dealing with it.

Of those, one in 17 has a serious mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Thomas Welch, those large numbers mean that every Catholic is affected by mental illness in some way.

The church "had always advocated for all people with disabilities, but we hadn't done enough for people with mental illness," says Janice Benton, the executive director of NCPD, which began in 1982.Nancy Kehoe, a Society of the Sacred Heart sister and psychologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, remembers a time when there was a lot of secrecy around mental illness."If a nun had to be taken to the psychiatric ward in a hospital, there was a lot of shame in having a psychiatric disability," she says."By virtue of Baptism, we're all equal members of the church, and we need to be mindful of that." As research has shown that mental disorders aren't just moods to be shaken off or, in severe cases, uncorrectable issues requiring time in a mental institution, the stigma once attached to them has slowly been eroding."The church's response parallels society," says Dorothy Coughlin, the Archdiocese of Portland's director of the Office for People with Disabilities.

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