CIA 2017: Mental health expert shares advice with teens


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

FORT MADISON — Teenage “Catholics in Action” helped others and themselves during a service learning program that included presentations on mental health intended to promote healthy, active lives.

Elizabeth Ebbing, Rachel Johs, John Paul Rethwisch and Kolten Ketcham from Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington work on a self-improvement exercise during Catholics in Action last month in Fort Madison.

The 21 teens and 10 adults engaged in plenty of community service during the June 24-27 Catholics in Action program in the Keokuk Deanery, and left with greater knowledge about care of self and for one another.

Providing the teens with the building blocks of good mental health was Chris McCormick-Pries, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf and clinical director of Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport.


“Where you are now is the beginning of your journey, challenging but joyful,” she told the teens in a classroom at Holy Trinity Catholic Jr./Sr. High School. One thing to keep in mind, she said, is that faith in God “will always help you make the decisions you need to make.”

In her PowerPoint presentation, she identified ways to build on decision-making skills:

• Be kind. It’s so much easier to ignore the kids who are “weird” or “different.” But, don’t do that. Be kinder than necessary. We are defined and formed by the experiences and relationships that we have.

• Be open to the world around you. When you’re always looking down at your phone, you could be missing out on important conversations. Don’t forget to look up once in a while to see the world around you.

• Be grounded. Dis­appoint­ments will come. You will make bargains with God, and not just for snow days. But even the darkest situations can lead to good. McCormick-Pries shared a personal story. She was a sophomore in high school in Kansas, content with her life, when her father announced: “I’ve got good news. We’re moving to Pennsylvania.” She didn’t want to be uprooted, but wonderful things happened. She received a great education, made new friends and enjoyed new experiences.

• Be brave. Don’t let fear keep you from doing something such as trying out for a sports team or asking someone to do something with you. You might get rejected, but at least you gave it a shot. Don’t allow the “what-ifs” in life to make you crazy.

• Sleep. Sleep is critical to mental health; sleep deprivation is real. Go to bed. That’s all. Just do it.

• Collaborate. Much of life is made successful by teamwork, so be a team player. Assert your ideas. Pull your weight. Don’t be “that” person who lets the work fall on everyone else. And don’t be the person who never gives a teammate a chance.

Balance. Grades matter, but you are much more than a number. You won’t remember every grade you received, but you will remember your experiences and what helped shape you as a person.
Appreciate you. You are cooler than you think. Cool is being confident in where you stand.

Be imperfect. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Failures are not an end point; they are life lessons. Each new opportunity is a fresh start and a chance to act differently.

Boundaries. Don’t be a people pleaser. You always have a choice in a relationship. You think you may know what other people are feeling but it doesn’t mean you are responsible to make them feel better.

Be you. Stop comparing yourself with others. Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” We never know what is going on beneath the surface of other people’s lives.

McCormick-Pries ended her talk with Scripture and a prayer. The Scripture verse, from Matthew’s Gospel, speaks about being a light of the world. “You are the light of the world, too,” she told the youths. “And those around you in your family, your school, community, and even your church are in great need of seeing an un-hidden, unapologetic light that serves and loves others in such a way that they would simply have to respond to God with praise.”

The talk by McCormick-Pries gave high school junior Riley Osborne of St. Mary Parish- Grinnell a fresh perspective on the retreat experience. While CIA talks usually focus on outward areas of need – such as the people and communities impacted by the service mission — McCormick-Pries’ talk was about self-esteem and self-improvement, Riley observed. “The focus was on ourselves.” She said all of the mental health topics addressed during the retreat gave her good things to reflect on while she was doing service work.

That’s what CIA organizer Mike Linnenbrink was hoping for. As coordinator of youth ministry for parishes in West Point, Farmington, St. Paul, Houghton and Fort Madison, he knew that mental health is an important issue for teens.

McCormick-Pries raised the students’ awareness about the need for a healthy self-image, Linnenbrink said. “You have to have a healthy relationship with yourself before you can have a healthy relationship with someone else.”

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