The Young Church Ministry of the Archdiocese of Wellington has launcheda mini-series of forums called “Elephant Issues” to help people who are working in youth ministry deal with tricky or uncomfortable issues.Young Church Ministry consultant Isabella McCafferty said there were a few topics that always came up in conversations with those they support in youth ministry.

“We call them ‘Elephant Issues’ because those [are] topics where the elephant [is] in the room, so to speak, and we want to just provide a place for those conversations to happen,” she said.

The first topic tackled was “Mental Health and Young People”. The forum was held at the Archdiocese of Wellington on July 24.

Around 25 people attended, including social workers from Catholic Social Services, people involved in Challenge 2000 and volunteers involved in youth ministry.

All those who were at the forum have accompanied young people through “varying degrees of mental health issues”, Miss McCafferty said.

She explained that — given the prevalence of mental health issues in New Zealand— the need for crisis type support was discussed, as was what to do when a young person comes with a serious mental health issue and how does one look after oneself (youth worker) in that situation.

“Most people said they felt quite affirmed in what they were already doing. They are already creating safe spaces for young people and that for them, it [affirmation]is something powerful to receive,” she said.

But, Miss McCafferty said, there was also an emphasis on self-care and the need to put support systems around themselves when they are working.

“It’s not an immediate thing that you make sure you were doing. I think in a professional setting it is.

“There is supervision in place for people who are in social work positions but for youth ministers, it’s not as clear cut or straightforward,” she noted.

Other points of discussion included the effect of social media and technology on young people.

“The world that young people live in, there are no breaks. [They] are needing to be available or present or in social media where they are seeing the best version of
their friends all the time,” she said. “So the effect of that on people’s mental health was talked about quite a bit.”

Those who attended the forum also discussed the need to care more for their neighbours and how communities aren’t as strong as they used to be.

The next forum is scheduled in September and will be on the issue of “Gender, Sexuality and Young People”.

“Again, we will be targeting that conversation to people doing ministry in a faith-based
context. So, the conversation would be steered that way rather than a generic forum,” she said.

Miss McCafferty said that, at the moment, they are doing these two forums only.

“We would be looking at what other things have come to the surface for people and whether there’s a place for it to continue. We wanted to create a brand around it so
we could continue doing them in the future if that’s what those in the community are
asking for,” she said.

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