By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, FEB. 10, 2012 ( Since 1994 the Christians for Service Association has been concerned with the situation in which the mentally ill live, and with their families from the legislative, social and economic point of view.

ZENIT spoke with the president of the Association, Franco Previte.

ZENIT: Is it true that mental pathologies are in marked growth? How are nations handling this?

Previte: Mental illness strikes at several levels, from depression to serious schizophrenia, continuing to groan under the ashes of silence and indifference. It is increasingly striking individuals of every age, especially young people, about 20% of the population: 16% suffering from various forms of mental hardship, 4% from mental disorders.

The more the illness grows, the less is spent to counteract it. I must recall that the health provisions in the Balance Sheet for mental illness in Italy is 3.4%, whereas in Tanzania it is 7%, in Australia 10% and in Great Britain 15%.

Not a day goes by in which events or episodes attributable to mental hardship don't surprise and confound public opinion.

Those tragedies that strike families, whose dynamics almost always hide psychically unstable minds, demonstrate and testify to the urgency of a problem of vast proportions which must not escape from the rules of reason and guarantee the security of citizens.

I would like to recall [...] the affirmation "the sick person is to be cared for, not segregated."

The right to health and to its protection "in respect of the human person" is a priority and, as such, exacts in Italy as in the member states of the European Union interventions for top health protection and a coordinated and coherent legislation that is valid in all the European States.

That's what we have requested with several Petitions of the Italian and European Parliaments.

ZENIT: What is expected from the Catholic Church?

Previte: Thank goodness the Catholic Church keeps "alive" the dignity of man and defends morality.

On May 13, 1992, the Holy Father John Paul II, today Blessed, instituted this "Day" to be observed every year on Feb. 11 in which the Blessed Mary, Virgin of Lourdes is remembered. The objective of this celebration was to sensitize secular society to give the sick effective care, and to [remind] the Christian believer [of] the task of always being close to those who suffer. Health is, precisely, the most precious gift that man has obtained from the Creator and on this Day the thought cannot be disregarded in regard also to those who bear in their bodies signs of great suffering whether physical or mental.

It is a priority in the socio-sanitary realm, because to take care of physical disabilities, especially those who suffer psychic hardship, is a civil sign and of respect of man's fundamental duties, recalled on this day of the 20th World Day of the Sick.

All these suffering people are "forgotten" and for the less sensitive they are considered a burden, as useless persons and hence the "weight" of care is "unloaded" on the shoulders of relatives.

The situation cannot be disregarded and ignored in which families live: their anxieties, their hopes, their needs, while society, in showing an external solidarity, continues to enclose itself in its own shell, in a truly disarming relativism.

There has to be that solidarity that the world of suffering expects and the consideration that the observance of this Day remains an event that, going outside of our ambit, must not just be a remembrance, but a constructive event, deep and full of meaning.

The call of the magisterium of the Catholic Church on the 20th World Day of the Sick reminds us as Christians and Good Samaritans and others that human life, including that of the sick, must find in us acceptance and defense of the protection of health.

The Pope's word is a voice that leaves no doubt, because "the values of life cannot be decided by fashions or politics" (General Audience of the Pontiff – St. Peter’s Square, October 17, 2007).

[Translation by ZENIT]