Compared to later in the academic year, many schools see a lot of reported mental health concerns for youth at the beginning of each school year. As youth leaders and worshipping communities, we are on the front lines of being able to support youth who are experiencing mental health concerns. Ministry today often includes creating safe spaces and environments where youth feel comfortable being themselves. With comfort comes deep conversations, which may include depression, anxiety, and various other mental health concerns. How can we be supportive of our youth as they seek safe places to express their needs?
- Be open to hearing their story. Just having an adult who is willing to listen can make a large difference for anyone.
- Help the child or teen reflect on their feelings and experiences. This can help youth who are not aware of exactly what they are feeling.
- If the youth is up to trying an activity to distract, this can be a helpful option for short-run emotional support. Playing games, creating art, and generally being active often help reset some immediate concerns.
- Know when to call in extra assistance for youth who are struggling with deeper concerns. If a child or teen is experiencing trauma, exhibiting damaging behaviors, or feeling unsafe, aid them with finding appropriate resources.
Allowing children and youth to know they are fully accepted for who they are is imperative to building a foundation of self-confidence and self-love. Youth who develop strong personal care techniques and have external support systems frequently learn ways to address their mental health concerns in positive ways. Knowing their support systems are there to help means the child or teen might reach out when they otherwise would not know where to turn.
Finding resources in your area and having cards or phone numbers on hand is important. Also make sure to have these resource cards and information available and posted in your youth room, so everyone knows there is always someone to talk to about their concerns. There are national hotlines as well as local resources in most areas. Remember you might be the first person they reach out to, so your response matters greatly. Aiding children and teens in finding additional resources like those listed below can be a great source of support as well.
The National Suicide and Crisis Hotline can be reached by dialing 988.
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth can be found at www.thetrevorproject.org.
Crisis Text Line is a 24/7 hotline available by texting 741741.