New Study Guide Leads Readers Through Book on Youth and Teen Mental Illness

In April 2022, Blessed Youth: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness with Children and Teens was published by Chalice Press to critical acclaim. At times poignant and extraordinarily practical, the book by the Rev. Sarah Griffith Lund, the UCC’s minister for disabilities and mental health justice, helps readers remove the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. It helps parents, families, and youth begin the conversation about mental illness in constructive ways.

Now to help readers accomplish that task, the Rev. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development — in conjunction with Lund — has authored a Study Guide to accompany readers through the experience of reading the book.

“I was so honored when Sarah asked me to put together this study guide,” said Berry. “The topic of youth mental health is such a vital conversation to have right now, and not just for faith communities and human service organizations — but for our country and world at large. Yet despite its clear relevance — including a special report from the U.S. Surgeon General — there are barriers to the conversation itself and thus to the steps that need to be taken whether individually or nationally.”

The guide is structured to follow the book, which weaves important information, statistics, and research alongside powerful stories and occasional well-placed poems. The study guide emphasizes choice — allowing readers to answer the guide’s reflection questions as they feel inclined to do so, and reminding them that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to use the guide.

The book “is written as an introductory work to support understanding and de-stigmatization while connecting the dots for how loved ones can better engage the youth in their lives around mental health,” Berry added.

Removing the shame and stigma around mental illness was a prime factor that motivated Lund to write Blessed Youth. “This book was born out of my personal experiences of mental health challenges facing children and teens in my family, including myself when I was a youth,” Lund said. “The shame and sigma is real and negatively impacts everyone, including children. The biggest barrier to getting mental health support is the silence around mental illness. I wrote this book to encourage all of us to break the silence with children and teens about mental illness.”

Blessed Youth also has a Blessed Youth Survival Guide — a 48-page, supplemental “pocket book” that offers the tools youth need to survive when they are feeling disconnected, confused, and alone. Specifically designed for youth, it covers such topics as anxiety, sadness, depression, phobias, OCD, panic attacks, PBSD, trauma, and therapy.

Blessed Youth is the third book Lund has authored. Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family and Church was released in 2014, and Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness and Marriage was published in 2021.  

Lund, who also is senior pastor of First Congregational UCC in Indianapolis, knows firsthand the importance of mental health ministries. In addition to her work with the UCC national setting, she has worked extensively with the UCC Mental Health Network on its resource for assisting local churches in becoming WISE (welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged) congregations. In 2015, she received the Bob and Joyce Dell Award for Mental Health Education from the Mental Health Network for her “outstanding authorship and leadership in breaking the silence about mental illness in family and in church and offering healing and hope.” And she co-authored the UCC/United Church of Canada’s Mental Health Sunday worship resource guide

“We are facing the largest mental health crisis known to humanity,” Lund said. “Mental health ministry is a critical response to the crisis by creating communities of compassion and care. We can offer life-saving spiritual and emotional support to children and teens as they navigate getting mental health care.”

Mental health ministry and advocacy is not new to CHHSM. In 2020, Berry authored an advocacy toolkit on various health and human service topics, including mental health. Although created in advance of the 2020 election cycle, the information is still relevant and useful today. Additionally, mental health ministries are services offered by CHHSM agencies across the country to their local communities.

As Lund said, “We can help end the stigma and shame by sharing a message of unconditional love for people living with mental health challenges. We can offer tangible hope, reminding people at their greatest time of need, that they are not alone.”

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