by Conor Nimmons
Australia is one of the least religious nations in the developed world, with religion not described as a central part in many people’s lives, particularly among young people, according to a 2008 survey conducted by The Christian Science Monitor.
In the 2006 census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics categorised 18.7 per cent (that’s 3,706, 555) Australians as having no religion compared to 15.5 per cent in 2001.
Yet Diane Roche (pictured), the chaplain at Royal North Shore Hospital Intensive Care Unit, is no stranger to the reality of physical and mental illness and finds there is no shortage of people traumatised by ill health who seek her support.
After 15 years of handling patients’ spiritual needs, Ms Roche says that it is tough dealing with people who are physically stunned by the trauma of serious injury, sudden death, or mental breakdown.
“There’s no cognitive reaction when they are stunned. You can see them asking themselves the question, ‘where is God in all this?’,” she says.
Non-denominational, Diane Roche says “there needs to be a growing understanding of spirituality, and an inherent understanding of ourselves and a capacity of connection to something bigger than ourselves”.
She steps outside the world view that religion defines spirituality. She believes the words of the Bible need to be used as a motivational platform, and that the unification of humanity overrides the importance of religious background.
However, she says that she does not aim to prophesise, merely to instill a sense of self within patients who have lost everything, and in some cases, everyone. It is this philosophy that has guided Ms Roche through the turbulence of the RNSH Intensive Care Unit. She says that the work is not easy but that team cohesion is of vital importance and that she is just “one of the team”.
Returning patients who want to have their faith maintained is a common occurrence for Ms Roche. Because trauma can last for long periods, she says patients often return to the hospital. She says “patients just want to have somebody to listen”.
She says a key to happiness lies in a person’s ability to remain true to his or herself in times of crisis. This is what propels Ms Roche to assist others. She says that her experiences with her patients searching for spiritual oneness have shaped her sense of self and broadened her understanding of spirituality.