Youth Faith Connections for Mental Health

In a previous article I lamented how this pandemic had exhausted me. At one time it had energized, but now I was just done. Not only are we dealing with our own emotions and fatigue, we have congregations to hold up, including youth and children that have gone through a traumatic year.

Milestones missed. Grades at risk. Athletic seasons wiped out. Friendships lost. An entire school year that did not match any that came before it. This is a lot on top of the stress that the tween and teen years can bring all on their own. We check in with our kids and youth, but sometimes we do not have enough time or the right timing to get into the deeper feelings they are having.

In my ministry I struggle with assuming needs. I absolutely want to fill needs, but I don’t ever want to assume what they need. What I see from the outside may not be what they are feeling inside. A few years ago I received a call at 10:30 pm on a weeknight. It was our parish nurse and she was with the family of one of my youth whose father had been released from the hospital to pass away at home from a glioblastoma. They figured it could be a matter of hours and our nurse thought I should be there for my youth, an only child at 14 years old. I went into panic mode. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? This was my first touch with death from one of my youth with a beloved parent and it sadly would not be my last.

I tried to script things in my head, gather resources to take, find prayers to share, but when I showed up at their door, all of those things left me. Everything I had assumed she would need was not needed. Do you know what she ended up needing? Someone to sit in the living room with her as her father laid on a bed in the middle of the room. Someone to watch Iron Man with her as she tried not to pay attention to his inconsistent breathing. Someone to braid her hair while visitors carried their grief in front of her. Someone to play her dad’s favorite Disney Channel songs (he was a devoted dad who loved everything his daughter did) while the family chattered tensely all around her. I did this until 6 am. Later that day he passed away and I came back and just held her as her world crumbled around her. No prayer planned, not weak words of comfort that I thought she might need to hear. No assumptions.

I learned a lot that day. That I can never assume what youth need. Even from youth to youth. As this has happened to other youth over the years, what they have needed has been different. 

As a parent, my own kids’ needs are different and I make mistakes constantly. I assume they want me to fix things when all they want me to do is listen. 

This past January I was asked to co-chair a group of youth in the Chapel Hill/Durham area of North Carolina to create awareness and events around mental health issues for youth in local faith communities. We have 5 on our team right now and they have spent the last few months planning an event taking place over Zoom Sunday, May 2nd. They told us what they needed and the adult chairs worked to help them realize their vision. They wanted to create a safe, anonymous space to have questions answered by experts so parents and youth could hear them. They hope parents will find it helpful to assist their youth and youth hope to learn how to help themselves and their friends.

It is a first step for this group that is new but passionate about mental health and their fellow youth. It has been wonderful for me to step back and listen to what they need and help them make it a reality.

You are all welcome to join our event by registering here. Share with your families and if you have youth that are passionate about mental health to possibly join our group. We are growing and would love new voices.

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Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee


One thought on “Youth Faith Connections for Mental Health

  1. dockld says:

    We seem to be having some issues with the Google Docs link in that it is showing the email addresses of all participants. Karen Miller states that using the link on the flyer that is now attached should be more secure. KLD


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