In 2021, the CDC officially declared a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. The rates of childhood mental health concerns have grown steadily since 2010, and by 2017 suicide was the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults aged 10-34. The Coronavirus pandemic has only increased and intensified the situation around mental health. Even more so than adults, adolescents and young adults are fighting for their lives behind hidden doors, unsure of where to go, or who to talk to. As the church, we get to be a safe space for students, and young adults, to feel accepted for where they are at, loved for who they are, and provide hope for the future.
Janet Haag (2019) brings painful statistics to the frontline that, “1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition. 50% of these conditions show up by age 14; 75% by age 24, so it should come as no surprise that 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 lives with significant mental health challenges, depression and anxiety topping this list.”
So, what does this mean for your ministry?
Well, the reality is, that you have students in your ministry right now, who are dealing with mental health issues. If you don’t, you will. There are things that you can be doing right now to help your students feel that the church is a safe and belonging place for them. Below are the most common mental health disorders that adolescents are dealing with. Before we get to that though, there is something incredibly important we must understand.
Our job is not to diagnose someone (or yourself). Our job is to observe changes in behavior, be a listening ear, and help students and families take next steps as needed.
So, what does this look like in a ministry context? Throughout this week, we are going to be talking about the most common mental health disorders in students, and share some super practical things that you can do to care for hurting students right away. This list is not exhaustive or definitive, it’s simply made up of a few suggestions of things we can do to support our students.
Let’s start with the most common mental illness diagnosed in the United States. If you have a student that deals with anxiety, here are a few things you can do to make your student feel more comfortable, and help them find ways to cope during youth group, an event, camp, or any ministry setting.
5 Practical Ways to Care for Students Who are Struggling With Anxiety
1.Help the student slow their breathing
- Slow, deep breaths are key.
- Practice breathing WITH them.
- Check out apps like Calm or Headspace.
2. Walk and Talk
- Sometimes students just need to step away from everything and take a break.
- Go on a walk around the building with them, to a park, etc.
3. Talk openly about anxiety
- The goal isn’t to get rid of their anxiety, but manage it.
- Find other people who are further along on their anxiety journey that can be an encouragement to the student.
4. Talk with the student’s family/parents
- The role of the church should be to partner with families.
- If the student hasn’t talked to their family, this is a MUST. You cannot keep mental health challenges a secret.
TIP: Offer to talk to parents WITH the student, agree to a date that they will talk to their parents by, if they don’t by that date let them know you will share with their parents for them.
5. Partner with professionals
- Have a list of trusted professionals on hand that you can refer out to (get this referral list approved by your church leadership).
- This list can include, but is not limited to: counselors, outpatient clinics, health care facilities, etc.
Check out this brand new Mental Health series at Download Youth Ministry:
My Friend is Struggling With
This 4-week series addresses mental health from a physical, mental, and spiritual perspective. Mental illnesses are real and daunting, but even in the middle of it, there can be hope. The first week gives a mental health overview, the second week addresses depression, the third week addresses anxiety, and the fourth week addresses suicide.
For the month of May, 100% of the proceeds for this resource will go to a scholarship fund to help youth workers with a mental health challenge see a counselor. If you are interested in this scholarship, you can fill out the application here.