Mental health is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue, especially among young people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 youths aged 13-18 years old has or will have a mental illness in their lifetime. As a youth pastor, it is essential that you are aware of these statistics and know how to engage mental health issues in your ministry better and not be a therapist. In this blog post, we will discuss five ways that you can do just that!
1) See a therapist yourself!
It is essential that you have an understanding of what therapy feels like, and the best way to do that is by seeking professional help. Therapists are not just for people with mental illness; they can also provide excellent advice and resources for those dealing with loved ones who have a mental illness or want to talk some things through. Chances are, you would show up and have plenty to talk about. There is much heartache and grief in youth ministry, and it often feels like there isn’t a place to take that. Therapy can be an incredible outlet for you. The skills you learn for yourself in that room will help you understand and interpret youth behaviors in ways you may never have thought.
2) Openly talk about mental health issues in your youth ministry
In therapy, there is a term called “normalization.” This is when the therapist seeks to make the client feel like their experience is normal, hoping they will feel more comfortable and continue sharing. This is because 99% of the time, their experience is normal; the client does not believe it is.
Students feel the same way. The anxiety and depression they experience often tells them it’s only them, so they do not feel safe to share. When we make conversations about mental health a regular part of our rhythm, students will feel more comfortable opening up.
They will see the consistency of you opening up the floor for the conversation and notice that relationships are not changing because of what is shared. This builds trust. When they trust you, they will confide in you.
3) Have mental health professional come and speak in your youth ministry
There are lots of mental health professionals out there who love Jesus. Find some in your community and begin to build a relationship with them. Learn from them in the mental health world and ask them how they integrate their faith. Once you’ve built a relationship and feel comfortable, ask them to come and invest in your students. They could be an incredible resource to help you engage the issues of our day and equip your volunteers to engage these issues well from a lay perspective.
Often, students need a listening ear, but this can be more difficult than we think. A few skills from a licensed professional can make a huge difference in how we care for students.
4) Have a list of mental health professionals you are ready to refer students to
Students can show up to our youth ministries in crisis. They could be engaging in self-harm, experiencing suicidal ideation, or threatening to complete suicide. We need to know the basics of what to do in these situations in our communities. Take some time to research what to do and make sure your volunteers are up to date too. If you become a more open and vulnerable place, students will open up. We must be prepared.
5) Show students that God cares about their mental health issues
The scriptures are filled with stories and poems of people struggling with anxiety and depression. Share these often with your students. God will continue to meet them in the midst of their struggles. Show them that their challenges do not disqualify them from the ultimate gift of Jesus and His Kingdom.
Jordan Francis is a team member of Reframe Youth in Phoenix, Arizona.