Speakers Pat and Kenna Millea will discuss teens and mental health at a March 15 gathering in Rice Lake. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

On March 15, the Diocese of Superior is offering a workshop on youths and mental health at St. Joseph, Rice Lake.

Hosted by the Office of Catholic Formation and the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. event is open anyone interested in helping youths and is particularly pitched to clergy members, staff and volunteers working with teens in a parish setting.

Speakers are Pat and Kenna Millea, a Catholic couple with seven children from the Twin Cities. Pat has been a youth minister for 15 years, and Kenna is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a background in ministry.

Together, they will discuss the current landscape of youths and mental health, how the loss of Christianity has affected the culture, how to be pastoral while setting boundaries and finding practical ways to respond to mental health problems.

According to diocesan officials, the gathering – first of its kind on this topic – will provide much-needed formation.

“The mental health concerns for children and youth have been a concern for many years,” said Peggy Schoenfuss, superintendent of Catholic schools and director of the Office of Catholic Formation. “Unfortunately, everything surrounding COVID has exacerbated it even more. With the ever increasing use of social media in their lives, young people have become more and more isolated from others.”

Chris Hurtubise, director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, agreed.

“With mental health issues having become so overwhelmingly prevalent in recent years, any serious attempts that we make to disciple young people – or adults for that matter – has to be informed with a basic understanding of the mental health landscape,” he said. “If we aren’t aware of and conversant with these issues, young people are not going to take our disciple-making efforts seriously – and rightly so.”


“Essentially … everyone understands that mental health issues have gotten worse with young people,” Pat Millea commented. He offered a statistic: Currently, nine out of 10 students believe depression is either a major or minor problem among their peers.

Citing stats on attempted suicide, which has grown “exponentially” in the past few decades, Pat said he believes the situation is worse than we know, and COVID – cutting students off from social networks, forcing them to spend even more time on screens, keeping some kids in unsafe home environments – has intensified the problem.
The Milleas believe the loss of Christianity is a root cause, and they begin by emphasizing that human dignity can never be lost and does not deteriorate, and the triune God points to the fundamental necessity of relationships.

Those relationships start with the family, another institution changed and manipulated over the past few decades, which Pat feels is another factor contributing to youths’ struggles. Social media, too, tells teens “You are not worthwhile as you are; you have to earn some sense of belonging, some sense of value.”

To a teen scrolling through social media who sees evidence that someone else has a better life, “it can feel like a personal attack,” he explained. “Not just I don’t have the right things, but I am not right.”

He’s heard criticism that the church doesn’t do enough to confront those problems, but Millea argues the difficulty for the church is it’s not designed “to be the authority on all things,” and finding well-formed, Christian therapists when referrals are needed can be challenging.

“The mental health field is just a hot mess of horrible world views and very dangerous practices,” he added.

Still, he thinks there’s a space for the church to be open to conversations related to mental health.

“I have to believe there’s a way that we can tell the truth in a way that speaks to everyone,” he said.

Millea also believes the church’s old solutions – prayer and confession – are underutilized but key to supporting and accompanying teens.

“Stuff like that is boring, because it’s not new,” he said.

Sometimes in the course of their work, youth ministers will encounter kids who need to be referred for mental health care. The Milleas will discuss tools and actions mentors can try, as well as talking about “really important things for people not to do if they’re not trained mental health professionals.”

Cost to attend the event is $20. Register by contacting Grace Geisler, or 715-234-5044.