Rate of priests with mental health issues on the rise

The number of priests suffering from depression and mental health problems is on the rise, an influential group representing Catholic clerics in Ireland has warned.

As fundraising events take place around the world today for the Pieta House Darkness Into Light event, it emerged that at least eight Irish priests have taken their own lives over the past 10 years.

Fears are growing that there is a rising sense of despair amongst ageing members of the priesthood, due to their ever-increasing workload, coupled with a growing sense of isolation and loneliness, attendees at a recent Dublin-based meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) were told.

Fr Roy Donovan, a spokesman for the ACP, said concerns over the wellbeing of members of the priesthood had been raised at each of the three regional meetings of the 1,000-strong clerical group.

And the Caherconlish, Co Limerick-based cleric said he believes that many more elderly churchmen are suffering in silence, not knowing where they can turn to for help.

“At the moment, we’re examining all the issues that were raised at the three local meetings, and the issue of depression amongst members of the clergy was certainly one of the main areas of concern,” he said.

“We know that some priests with mental health issues have found support by attending Grow groups, but I think there are a lot of priests out there who either won’t or don’t know where to get help.

“So the hope is that there’ll be more regional ACP meetings, which should help us address the problem better by reaching out to more priests.”

Speaking at the Dublin-based ACP meeting, Fr Brendan Hoban — one of the group’s founders — said more attention needed to be given to the wellbeing of priests.

He blamed the rise in levels of clustering — which is the process of amalgamating parishes into larger units — for increasing stress levels amongst members of the priesthood.

Fr Hoban has previously highlighted how the vocations crisis is forcing priests to carry on working beyond their retirement age — because not enough ordained clerics are coming through the seminaries to replace them.

At the ACP’s AGM last November, he said these men had come from a time of full churches and live-in housekeepers and now found themselves alone and vulnerable.

“These priests are what I’d describe as the lost tribe,” he said. “They’ve no longer any quality of life and they need our attention because many are in a desperate situation. We’ve noticed there’s a high level of depression amongst the clergy, and there are some who must be wondering if they’ll just be left to die alone in their homes.”

Meanwhile, suicide prevention group Pieta House’s Darkness Into Light campaign takes place in 150 venues, across four continents, today. Last year, the global event raised €3.5m.

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