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How the Teen Mental Health Crisis Is Turning Some Youth Pastors Into First Responders

St. Joseph Catholic Community in Bound Brook, New Jersey, a mixed Latino-Anglo parish, is one of seven Catholic parishes in the state participating in NeXt Level, which attempts to empower young people through justice and service projects. In a 2021 survey of participants, said Valeria Morales, a mentor in the program and a social worker, many said they wanted to make their “passion project” mental health.

Valeria Morales. Courtesy photo

Black and Latino teens can carry a higher burden when it comes to dealing with mental health. “There is such a stigma around it in our community,” said Morales. “There is definitely still the mentality that if you are struggling with mental health, you are weak.”

Adult immigrants who endured their own traumas, she said, may see first-generation young adults’ struggles and say “The troubles that you are talking about? Get over it,” she said.

Even the parents who have been in America for a long time are “very controlling,” said Tam Nguyen, a pharmacist who serves as a NeXt Level mentor at Most Precious Blood Parish, a mixed Vietnamese-Anglo church in West Collingswood, New Jersey. Young people, whose primary language is English, crave more freedom.

Several youth pastors and mentors said that involving parents can also help share the responsibility when a teen comes to them with mental health complaints. Said Ridgeway, “We are a piece of the puzzle, but we’re not the whole puzzle.”

Teens, who are more likely to trust their peers than many adults, may choose to be proactive, bolstering mental health by fostering a stronger sense of community, vaulting across cultural barriers.

That, said Talley, goes to the heart of what the Christian faith offers. “For us, discipleship, faith, is best experienced in relationships. I think there is just an irreplaceable value in walking with students and families in the midst of it, and saying that, hey, we’re all in this together,” he said.

This article originally appeared here.