“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways,”
—Dr. Russell Barkley
With that challenging quote, Stephen Doucet-Campbell addressed attendees of “Walking Alongside,” a day of training focused on youth and mental health. Disability Concerns, a joint ministry of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, presented the April 27 event. Training sessions throughout the day provided expert advice on difficulties facing youth, how to recognize concerns, and making helpful connections. As Doucet-Campbell pointed out, when young people are acting out, it is really important to offer love—and to look at their capabilities, not deficits.
Westdale Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ont., served as host. More than 100 participants attended from churches within Ontario.
Doucet-Campbell, a psychotherapist with Shalem Mental Health Network, described adolescence as a time of integration for the emotional mind and logical mind that requires a great deal of navigation. He reported that only one in five children who need mental health services receive them.
“So many people who care about or are raising young people are wondering why the instances and severity of mental illness are more frequent and on the rise,” said attendee Anna Bailey, children and youth ministry coordinator at Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines, Ont. “The panelists responded to that kind of question this way: Culturally we are becoming less and less healthy (we talk less, we hug less), and we are measuring mental health better. If we can remind ourselves of this reality, we can be more empathetic to those who are living with mental health challenges.”
“There is a tendency to panic and moralize things. But we need to listen, ask questions, and create a safe place to talk,” Doucet-Campbell said.
As one attendee pointed out, when someone in the congregation has an injury like a broken leg, fellow church members will “drown you in chicken soup.” But when the illness is depression, the church is less equipped; many people feel uncomfortable talking to and supporting those who struggle.
While historically the church has failed in supporting people with mental health issues, Doucet-Campbell said the church is actually in a powerful position to help. “People thrive when they know someone expects them to show up,” he said.
Scott Page, in his workshop “Depression in Youth,” also identified church as a important component of healing. He said youth with mental health concerns who are connected to a church community tend to have better outcomes. Page discussed the importance of lament in worship and the need to listen to those in depression, not just out of depression.
As Disability Concerns communications and volunteer specialist Rev. Miriam Spies pointed out, there is a tendency to move people too quickly from the Good Friday and Holy Saturday feelings to the joy of Easter morning. This reaction, to “fix” rather than listen, can push those who struggle away. Instead, Christians need to learn to walk beside, to journey together through the turmoil.
"As a chaplain and former youth pastor who specialized in mental health, I am very appreciative that our denomination is recognizing the reality of mental illness and the stigma around mental health by providing opportunities to learn more," said Helena Allan, CRC chaplain at Fanshawe College in London, Ont. who also attended the day. "God calls us to to hard and difficult things, and our denomination is owning that by talking about hard and difficult things so we can love God's people fully and wholly, not just the 'together pieces.'"