First UMC Winnsboro Uses Grant to Address Teen Mental Health

Winnsboro parents

First UMC Winnsboro used grant money to bring in therapist Karla Hutcherson, M. Ed, LPC-S, Lifeline CMS, to talk to teachers, parents and students about mental health.

Church has learned talking about mental health does not cause teenagers to want to harm themselves, but helps them know they are not alone

In Fall 2023, First UMC Winnsboro received a grant from the NTC Center for Missional Outreach for “You Are Not Alone” which addresses mental health challenges among teenagers in the community. As we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked Rev. Debbie Lyons, Pastor First UMC Winnsboro, to share about their efforts around teen mental health. 

What prompted the church to get involved with teen mental health in Winnsboro?  

On February 13, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control released the findings of the Youth Risk Behavior Data Summary and Trend Report which showed shocking data on health behaviors and experiences. The data offers a snapshot of adolescent health and well-being related to sexual behavior, substance use, experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

On July 19, 2023, and September 19, 2023, FUMC Winnsboro gathered a group of leaders to consider what we, as a community, could do to help address the disturbing reports of a mental health crisis among our teenagers. When each person was asked if there is a teen mental health challenge in Winnsboro, the answer was a resounding YES! 

Later, when Bishop Sáenz announced his five ministry focus areas, we chose to focus on Maximizing Care and Healing because it fit with other community work we were doing. This also hit home because one of our staff members has a 24-year-old daughter with Bipolar Disorder whose journey began at 13 with self-harm and her first suicide attempt. She has seen how a church can be supportive through hospitalizations and diagnoses.   

Winnsboro studentsWhat has First UMC Winnsboro done to support teen mental health in 2023-2024?

We gathered with 19 local leaders in the community: City of Winnsboro Police, CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital Winnsboro, First Baptist Church, Northeast Texas Children’s Advocacy Center, WISD School Board, WISD Campus school nurse, WISD School Counselors and Wood County Juvenile Probation. Since those meetings, we have hosted a community event for the Northeast Texas Children’s Advocacy Center at our church to enlighten parents about internet danger for teens. 

What has been the biggest learning through this school year?  

When a 13-year-old girl hung herself in her home, quick decisions were made to approach the challenges head on. We researched and found professionals to lead the following, paid for with the grant from the North Texas Conference: 

  • Staff Suicide Awareness training, a 3-hour training for all teachers 
  • Parent Dinner & Mental Health/Suicide Awareness event for all parents  
  • High school all-student assembly 
  • Junior high all-student assembly 

What we learned is that talking honestly about suicide and teen mental health does not cause teenagers to want to harm themselves, but instead helps them know they are not alone and help is available. The biggest challenge is getting the parents involved. Some still feel that it is not something that can or will affect their family, and not something they need to learn about.  

What is your hope for the Winnsboro community and for the church as you walk alongside young people in your area?  

In hopes of connecting with parents who are struggling with children who have mental health challenges, we have started a monthly Parents Supporting Parents Support Group. Starting in the fall when school resumes, we will partner with the school counselors to do male and female small groups in the junior and senior high schools after school. This is also supported by the grant from the NTC Center for Missional Outreach. We hope that the community becomes educated in teen mental health, understands where they can go for help and knows that the church is a place where they can find people who will walk alongside them and pray for and with them. 

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2024