by Catherine Anderson
“We’re supposed to teach youth about Jesus. In reality, we’re just trying to get kids through the day.” A couple years ago I started hearing comments like this more and more frequently from youth ministry leaders in my synod. You’ve probably felt it too. Anxiety, depression, suicide and other complex mental health conditions are deeply impacting ministry with young people and their families.
To help equip, resource and empower our leaders to begin conversation on mental health, we began the NE MN Synod Youth Ministry & Mental Health Initiative in 2019. Through a generous grant from Disability Ministries, made possible through Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, we were able to provide discussion guides, podcasts and workshops on the topics of mental wellbeing, anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and response and grief.
The response far exceeded our imagination. Young people craved these conversations. Leaders would take two or three meetings to get through sessions because the conversations went so deep. I expected that. What surprised me was how much older generations, especially grandparents, longed to talk about their own experience with mental health conditions, as well as their concerns for children and grandchildren.
Ultimately, we found that the Initiative gave permission to talk about mental health openly. Many leaders had very little education on mental health conditions and didn’t know how to begin conversations with their young people, and the resources provided a way to do that. As one leader shared, “I think the act of simply being able to speak about these topics in our congregation was a huge blessing—it was a way of showing that this part of who you are does not have to be separate from your faith community. It sets up the opportunity for future discussions.”
You are welcome to use, share and link to any of the resources we have developed. They are all available for download at www.nemnsynod.org/MentalHealth. Thanks to continued funding from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd Endowment Fund (Duluth, Minnesota), we were also able to provide immediate resources to address mental health concerns related to COVID-19 and will be developing further resources around substance abuse and compulsive behaviors in the coming months. We pray these resources provide a way for you to begin conversations on mental health in your congregations as you accompany youth and their families in all aspects of their faith and life journey.
Catherine Anderson serves as the coordinator of youth ministry in the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, and co-director of the Extravaganza.