Long before Charlie Garza became the Pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church just outside Austin, Texas, he understood the powerful impact spiritual leaders could have on people struggling with mental illness.
“I had a close family member with mental illness when I was growing up and they went to the ministry for support,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, they did not get what was needed.”
It’s this personal experience that led Father Garza to get involved with improving the response to mental illness in his community, including involvement with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Austin. (Related: Read about NAMI’s Executive Director Karen Ranus.) He’s been a member and trainer with the Bridges to Hope program, which teaches faith leaders about mental health.
“I’ve found that faith communities have not been very supportive of mental health struggles and they see a lot of those people suffering from mental illness,” says Father Garza. “People are looking for support, but many religious leaders are somewhat uncomfortable with the conversations and simply provide referrals to see a therapist or psychiatrist. If we can help normalize mental illness as the true medical condition it is, it will go a long way toward eliminating the stigma that many people live with.”
Father Garza, who considers himself an “outside-the-box kinda guy,” has now developed a reputation with Catholic parishes all over the Austin area and many now send people to him for council.
His advice for other faith leaders: “We should be part of helping to get rid of the stigma. We need to talk about it – It’s a real illness and we should be supporting people the same as we do for other medical conditions. It’s very much something that we still keep in the dark.”
Father Garza is excited to be part of What’s the Fix? on May 17 so he can continue raising awareness.
“I don’t have all the answers but a good place to start is by having honest discussions and learning from one another,” he says. “I hope that other faith leaders might go down this same road. We’ve got a problem, so let’s find solutions.
More about Speaker Charlie Garza:
Charlie has been nicknamed the ‘baby pastor’ due to people’s doubts that he is old enough to be a pastor. He has lived with family members who have struggled with mental illness throughout his life. He went to college to become a computer programmer, but realized while working as a resident advisor that he had a gift of counsel and a passion for helping people heal. This led to a decision to major in psychology and become a licensed professional counselor. However, when he learned that people who had an active spiritual life had a higher rate of recovery from illness and survival from medical procedures than those without a spiritual life, he changed course again.
In 2010, Charlie was ordained to ministry in the Catholic Church and began to help people with various illnesses develop a more active spiritual life. He has witnessed firsthand many times over that people with strong spiritual lives have exceeded doctors’ recovery estimates and survived illnesses they shouldn’t have survived. Today he’s the Pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church just outside of Austin, Texas, and lives his passion of helping people experience healing of traumatic memories through a type of prayer called inner healing prayer.