May 13, 2022

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Story offers hope for those coping with mental health issues

David Bethuram

(May is Mental Awareness Month. Each year, thousands of Hoosiers face the reality of living with mental illness. Catholic Charities joins other mental health providers to raise awareness about mental health. We fight the stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.)

Despair to hope is a journey that one local woman has traveled successfully. Thirty-two-year-old Shelby’s struggles started as a young child. Depression and anxiety plagued her, but she didn’t know what it was nor did she have anyone to help her cope.

Her early school memories are permeated with loneliness, fear and worry that something bad would happen to her.

She would fake being sick so she wouldn’t have to go to school for days or even weeks at a time. Shelby remembers wrapping herself in her imagination to escape her fears and to try to cope with her life. Her school years were spent as a loner, and her fears kept her from even trying to make friends. She didn’t understand what was wrong with her and felt certain no one else would.

She said her everyday life was dreary with no happiness. She just drifted along trying to survive any way she could.

When Shelby was 7, her school had a class about inappropriate touching and molestation. As a result, she realized that her father had been sexually abusing her since she was about 5. She told her mom what was happening but, when confronted, her father denied the accusations and accused Shelby of lying about him.

The abuse continued for several years until Shelby threatened to call the police about the sexual abuse if it didn’t stop. The anger at her father for the abuse and her mother for not believing the abuse was happening was crippling for Shelby.

The depression and anxiety continued throughout her teen and young adult years. She was unable to hold down a job and continued to miss school. She reached out to her pastor’s wife at age 19 and was able to at least talk about some of her struggles. At 21, she briefly saw a therapist and tried some medication, but her efforts at recovery were half-hearted and sporadic. Shelby continued to struggle with her illness until she was 25.

The turning point was her relationship with her mom. She said that her mom finally realized Shelby was sick and needed help. They talked about what she was going through. Her mom promised her she would support her in any way she could.

While her daughter was struggling with her mental illness, Shelby’s mom was battling cancer. The cancer was spreading, and she underwent chemotherapy on a monthly basis. The cancer would eventually win, but before she died, her mom made Shelby promise she would remain committed and consistent with her mental health treatment. Shelby said the moment that really changed her was the promise. If not for that, she honestly believes she wouldn’t be here today.

Shelby initially contacted a Catholic Charities therapist for counseling and then was put in contact with a local psychiatrist for medication. She said there were two factors that have helped her succeed: commitment to her therapy and taking her medication. She had mental health professionals looking out for her well-being and committed to helping her.

Since Shelby started receiving services at Catholic Charities, she said she couldn’t imagine her life being even a third as good as it is now.

Her illness no longer controls her. She has tools and skills to make it through hard times. Shelby no longer feels like a victim; she is a survivor, and the future is open for her to live life fully.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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