Father Angelito Anarcon, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Farmingdale, was among those instrumental in having Dr. Joseph Miller visit the parish to speak about addiction and behavioral health. Kaitlin Kowalec photo
Father Angelito Anarcon, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Farmingdale, was among those instrumental in having Dr. Joseph Miller visit the parish to speak about addiction and behavioral health. Kaitlin Kowalec photo
" If you remember nothing else [from today] I want you to remember that mental illness and addiction are a disease, just like any other. "

When it comes to behavioral health issues and addiction, awareness is a step in the right direction.

Such was the message geared toward youth and their families for the “Out of the Shadows” discussion held in St. Catherine of Siena Church, Farmingdale, and presented by Dr. Joseph Miller, vice president of Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services with Hackensack Meridian Health.

In explaining the impetus for the event, parish pastoral associate Laura Randazzo said the staff wanted to speak “directly to issues that our youth are facing on a daily basis. Vaping [and] opioids are emerging issues, and our youth, along with their families, need to have the knowledge to defend themselves as their choices will directly affect the quality of one's life.” 

Father Angelito Anarcon, parish pastor, agreed. “Christ wanted the total body and soul to be saved, and in order to do that, we must respond to the needs of the people.”

In his presentation, Dr. Miller – a parishioner who collaborated for months with Father Anarcon, Randazzo and Deacon Daniel Sakowski on the event – spoke on national mental health statistics.

“Around 48 percent of Americans have a chance of experiencing a mental health challenge in their lifetime,” he said. In addition, “cases of mental health are often under reported, especially by men.”

One of the primary goals of the discussion, held Oct. 19, was to break down some of the barriers surrounding these issues so that those suffering become comfortable enough to seek help – and so that a community can be better understanding in return.

For example, it’s important to take care of one’s mental health as it can go hand-in-hand with other health problems, such as drug addiction, Dr. Miller said. He shared a number of statistics, in particular how of children in the United States ages 3-17: 9.4 percent have been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), 7.4 percent with a behavior problem, 7.2 percent with anxiety and 3.2 percent with depression. The statistics, he said, represent only the diagnosed cases; millions of children and their families are likely affected, and greater need for pediatric mental health care and training is needed.

Another big topic of discussion was adolescent health and vaping. “Nicotine is the main ingredient in about 95 percent of vaping products, which creates an addiction and puts [young people] at risk of using other substances due to [the nature of their still] maturing brains,” he explained.

Dr. Miller mentioned that many vape pens often use chemical oils to make them taste good or they contain THC, which is found in marijuana. The oil vapors are coating the lungs of patients, which can build up over prolonged usage and give users chemical burns on their lungs.

He also emphasized an increasing mortality rate due to suicide from depression, overdosing and liver problems attributed to alcoholism.

“If you remember nothing else [from today] I want you to remember that mental illness and addiction are a disease, just like any other,” he said.

Though the social concerns presentation was geared toward parish religious education students in grades seven and eight and their families, others were invited, too, such as parishioners, those from parishes within St. Catherine of Siena’s Cohort and the community at-large.

“It’s important to discuss these issues so there’s less stigma around having mental illness,” said one young man named Billy, 13, who was at the event with his grandparents. “It’s good to learn more about it so that people have all the facts to [understand it better].”

Michael, 17, who attends parish religious education, said, “I feel that in light of recent events, it’s very important for young people to hear this. A lot my friends vape, and they don’t think it’s a big deal. Hearing some of those statistics, especially the chemical burns in particular, really puts things in perspective.”

Randazzo said the discussion is hopefully the first in a larger series to dive deeper into more specialized areas of health and awareness as a community. Inspiration for this event, she said, came directly from the needs of the parish, as individuals and families come to parish staff when they feel they have nowhere else to go.  A little over two years ago, the parish established a social concerns commission to address and assist the variety of needs they were seeing through education, acts of service and advocacy. 

“It is our sincere hope that all who attended walk away with the awareness of the alarming statistics and the reassurance that our parish is here, together with the community, to help direct the people with the guidance they need,” she said.