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Parents, Faculty, Staff and Monks Start the Conversation about Mental Health

Starting the Conversation

On Monday, Oct. 3, about 200 guests gathered in the Kevin Kline Theatre for Starting the Conversation: Raising Emotionally and Mentally Healthy Kids, a presentation by the Independence Center of St. Louis. Father Gregory welcomed parents, faculty, staff and monks to the program, and led the assembly in prayer before introducing Kate Tansey, a licensed clinical social worker.

Kate gave a brief overview of the Independence Center and spoke about how mental health and mental illness are not on opposite ends of a scale, but are related. She said that 1 in 5 children ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition, and applying that statistic to St. Louis County demographics means that about 50,000 kids live with a mental health condition in the county. She showed a brief film from the University of Minnesota that demonstrates how mental health is a continuum, and let the audience know that several mental health service providers had set up tables in the student commons, including Catholic Family Services, Behavioral Health Response, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Independence Center. Guests were given notecards to submit questions, a bag for collecting materials from the providers, and a brief survey to complete at the end of the presentation.

Then, Kate introduced a panel of speakers who took the stage in comfortable chairs facing the audience: Dr. Daniel Reising, a child psychiatrist and mental health specialist at Clayton Behavioral; Sue Schulz, a mother of three, Susan Powderly, mother of four including Matthew ’08; and Julie Tang, mother of four, including Brian Eggert ’08. The mothers all shared their stories of helping their children who struggled with mental illness, including their personal histories, successes, and challenges. They agreed that communication with your children is key, and Sue said she found that when she talked with her daughter, not to her, that helped tremendously. It’s easy today for kids to hide behind their technology, but face-to-face conversations, phone calls, and video calls are essential. Another piece of advice is to trust your gut as a parent. Mental illness might not always be as obvious as we think it should be, and can manifest itself in unexpected ways, like insomnia. Keep asking questions, of your child, your pediatrician, and your child’s teachers. Communication with the faculty at your child’s school is essential, especially when your kids are younger. Start the conversation early with your children, so that as they grow up they feel comfortable talking to you. Watch your language to ensure you’re not disparaging those who struggle with mental illness in front of your children.

The panel agreed that mental illness needs to be discussed candidly and openly. Cancer used to be talked about in whispers, and now it’s a common conversation topic and there are many easy ways to find resources and admit when help is needed. Mental illness still has a bit of a stigma attached, and we can all work harder to bring it out into the light so that people feel comfortable seeking help. Along these lines, the panel stressed that it’s important to ask someone who you suspect may be contemplating suicide if they are considering harming themselves. A simple, “Should I be concerned about your safety?” can open the door to a frank conversation that leads to help. Dr. Reising said that people are afraid of asking because they fear they will plant the idea. “You’re not opening the door,” he said. “Talking about it doesn’t introduce the idea.” Open conversations about mental illness can also help banish the stigma that is attached to the idea of using medicine to treat chemical imbalances. While a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, appropriate exercise, and sleep can help, many times those battling mental illness must use prescribed medicine to manage their illness. One of the mothers pointed out that proper expectations are essential: medication helps manage the illness, but doesn’t solve everything.

The panel encouraged the audience to learn about mental illness, including checking your family history. Talk with your children about mental health when they are in a good place, not when they are in the middle of a crisis. Keep asking questions, even if they shut down the conversation. Keep opening up opportunities for dialogue. Check out mental health first aid courses available through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which offers both training and resources. Start the fire of conversation about mental health, so we’re all prepared and can help our children.

After the panel discussion, the audience asked a variety of questions and shared personal experiences. Guests were then free to ask one-on-one personal questions of the panelists, visit the resource tables in the commons, and share their thoughts with each other.

Thank you to the Independence Center and our panelists for their time Monday night. The presentation provided candid talk and vital information, and did start the conversation for many guests.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


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