Behavioral Health Conference fosters “hope in a changing world”


bhcSAN BERNARDINO—The pressures and effects of modern society can challenge our ability to carry hope and maintain good mental health.

 This reality was examined from many different angles through keynote talks, breakout sessions and testimonials at the Diocesan Behavioral Health Conference, held May 8 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

 It was the fourth time the Diocesan Department of Life, Dignity and Justice has offered the Behavioral Health Conference since 2015. 

 “The conference was focused on trying to see how different factors like social life and mental health are affecting spirituality,” said Sister Chilee Okoko, D.M.M.M, Department Director. 

 In their keynote addresses, Father Anthony Dao and Dr. Amanda Alexander both touched on the influence of technology on both youth and the family. 

 “The impact of this new, technologically constructed reality on our mental health is only beginning to be understood, and I believe we have yet to truly consider how it will reshape what we understand by community, society, and our responsibility toward others,” said Alexander, who teaches Theology and English at Notre Dame High School. Her hour-long talk focused on understanding spirituality and accepted norms of social life in the late 20th Century up until today.

 Fr. Dao, the Pastor of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Temecula, emphasized the need to provide pastoral care to those who are lonely and isolated, particularly the elderly. He gave a detailed description of a successful parish ministry to those who are homebound.

 “We should let them know that they are not forgotten and that they are still in full communion with the Church and with the parish,” Fr. Dao said. “If they cannot go to the church to experience God, the church should bring God to them.”

 Breakout Sessions at the Conference focused on topics such as Family Dynamics (Dr. Spencer O’Neal, PhD) and  “Embracing the Joy, Beauty and Gifts of Life” (Father Steve Porter). To illustrate joy amidst difficult circumstances, Fr. Porter recounted his personal interactions with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta when he was a young priest.

 “The joy of the Lord was her hope,” he said. “I don’t think I ever saw her sad or upset. She was always happy.”

 Another Breakout Session focused on stigma associated with mental health struggles. It was offered in English by Dr. William Roozeboom and Dr. Sarah Delgado in Spanish. Later a panel with representatives of  several different ethnic cultures discussed the same topic.