As I sit down to write this article, I have anxiety. I have the normal kind that anyone gets when there is a deadline to meet. It’s natural to feel the pressure to accomplish a task. But I also have the diagnosed anxiety that has become more common living in today’s world. It’s hard not to be anxious or depressed when we see everything falling apart around us. A global pandemic is a race we have been running for a long time and it’s not going to be over anytime soon. We see death and natural disasters and it is often paralyzing to our sensibilities. We also experience chemical imbalances in our brain that may have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in the world yet keep us from getting out of bed and attempting to have a normal daily routine.
Thankfully, God is with us every single day, hour and second, as sometimes that’s how slowly we move forward. He is with pastors, DCEs and all who are leading within the Church. He has seen us through difficult times, and He will continue to do so until Jesus returns. We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, giving us life with Him. We are called to live out that hope in our everyday lives, sharing in the struggles with the love we have been given.
It’s not easy to be vulnerable in this moment, but that’s how we need to talk about mental health, especially in the Church, which is supposed to be a safe space. Do you feel safe to talk in your ministry setting? How about with the students you love every day? Even with a professional diagnosis and prescription medication, those who experience mental health issues are often misunderstood.
As we consider the mental and spiritual health of the young people we serve, it can be easy to make assumptions.
Instead, supportive adults can pause and educate ourselves and others about how to care for young people’s mental health in a Christ-centered way. We have the statistics on bullying and suicide among our youth and it’s difficult to swallow. We see the need, but we don’t always know how to meet it. And if we are experiencing those struggles ourselves, how are we supposed to minister to others?
This verse reminds me that there is value in sharing our struggles: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
God has been helping real people with real problems since the beginning of time. The range of human emotions include obvious feelings of joy and anger, but what about loneliness, anxiety and depression? These feelings, so common in our world today, may be less obvious in Biblical narrative, at least not as we understand them today. However, this doesn’t mean that Elijah, Job and Peter didn’t have these legitimate emotions in their very real human lives. When sin entered the world, so did war, death, and chemical imbalances in the brain.
How do we begin on this difficult topic amongst the students who enter our spaces and trust us to teach them?
We start with an honest and open conversation.
What we know about Generation Z is that they expect authenticity. They want those who care about them to be real. In the same way we talk about death and injustice and all the questions we have for God, we also must address the issue of mental health with hard conversations.
Our next step can be normalizing the conversation about mental health as we spend time grounded in Scripture.
When it’s death, we go to God’s Word and bring in grief counselors.
When it’s injustice, we go to God’s Word and bring in speakers with firsthand accounts.
When we wrestle with our faith, we go to God’s Word and gather in conversation in a caring community, praying amid unanswered questions.
For mental health, we need to follow the same pattern: Go to God’s Word and talk about it. The YouthESource has several Bible studies to help you get started.
Talk about steps that youth and adults can take to care for their mental health.
Much of the stigma surrounding mental health and care comes from a lack of knowledge and education on what a mental health checkup would look like. The images we see in movies and television aren’t exactly accurate. Why not walk through the steps and share in conversation with students? This is an opportunity to show the process, be authentic, and break down the barriers that can come with the lack of education.
Here are some steps for an individual to walk through and then discuss with students:
- First, talk to a family member – This applies to both adults and youth. Minors need permission from parents to take on the following steps, but often as adults we go at it alone, and that’s the wrong approach.
- Visit your physician – It all starts with a regular physical exam. Our mind is part of our body so the doctor will ask us questions about our mental state. Talk about the importance of being honest with the doctor that is looking at your overall health. This medical professional is a good place to start and then can give referrals.
- Learn about prescription medication – Instead of encouraging a random Google search through the internet, model how to ask your doctor about medication and how it works on the brain or finding verifiable and trusted sources. Most stigma comes from misunderstanding found through opinions rather than verified science. It can be helpful to know types of medications available just as it is helpful to know generally how insulin, inhalers, and epi pens work. An individual can do the research by talking to experts and most of us have that in a healthcare provider.
- Find a counselor- If you have ever had to do this for yourself, you know it’s not easy. Talk about the challenges with youth. Talk about options. Talk about how you may have to try out a few different counselors to find the right one for you. Talk about how regular conversations with a professional are normal for everyone to take care of. This can all be done without divulging personal details about your own journey.
- Lift it all up in prayer – This step is really one that happens in the beginning and throughout the process. God has given us faith, but he has also given us science, medical professionals, community, and the discernment to navigate it.
As you open this conversation and share your personal journey, be prepared for students and parents who will feel safe enough to open up and be vulnerable with you. Make sure to have plenty of caring adults and professionals available and recognize that you can’t do it alone. There’s comfort in knowing that God is with us and provides helpers along the way, let’s use them!