Do you know the story of St. Dymphna?
Dymphna lived in Ireland in the seventh-century, and was just 15 years old when she was killed because she rejected the sexual advances of her mentally deranged father. He was determined to marry her to replace his beautiful, deceased wife. Upon learning of her father’s unholy desires, Dymphna fled to Belgium where she was tracked-down, beheaded and buried. Because of many reports of miraculous healings of mental illness attributed to St. Dymphna, and because of popular devotion to her, she was canonized in 1247. Dymphna is honored as a virgin-martyr and her Feast Day is May 15th.
I first became aware of St. Dymphna as the Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio, because the National Shrine of St. Dymphna is located in Massillon, Ohio, in that Diocese. But interestingly, her name is popping-up more frequently these days as an increasing number of students are taking the name Dymphna as their Confirmation name.
I always presumed that when a candidate took the name Dymphna, it was because a family member or close friend was struggling with, or had struggled with, mental illness. I’m told, however, that these days, students take the name Dymphna because they themselves are burdened with an overwhelming sense of anxiety, fear and hopelessness. They’re looking for a way out, for guidance and support.
This reality of this struggle among children and teens is affirmed by professionals. A local group of pediatricians and psychologists recently issued an urgent “Child and Adolescent Mental Health State of Emergency” for our region. It’s clear that the pandemic has led to increasing depression, self-harm, trips to emergency rooms, and suicides among young people.
And there’s evidence, too, that the mental health of teens is negatively impacted, not only by the isolation caused by the pandemic, but also by their immersion in social media, a place often dark and cruel, a sticky, tangled web that young people find impossible to avoid or escape.
The solution to this crisis? Our community should strive to provide the increased professional services that young people and families need to address this problem. We need to help teens avoid addiction to the internet and social media, and to help them escape it when it becomes problematic. Parents have a particular obligation to be vigilant in this regard.
And perhaps it’s a good time to increase our devotion to St. Dymphna, who, throughout the ages, has assisted people who are struggling with the demons of mental illness and emotional distress.
Something to think about: Know anyone struggling with mental illness? Ask St. Dymphna to help them.