Talking to Young People at Church about Mental Health

Nov 21, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Emily E. Ewing

As the nights grow longer and the days grow cloudier, many people of all ages are more likely to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Especially given the isolation and stress children and youth are facing today from all sides, it is no wonder that there is increasing concern for the mental health of children and youth.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are reasonable reactions to everything going on throughout the world. The world has grown increasingly hostile, and young people have increasing access to it through the internet, TV, and peers. There has also been a shift in language. Past generations have had less understanding about mental illness and less access to diagnoses and words to explain what might be happening. All of these factors have created a situation in which mental health concerns, especially with children and youth, are more prominent than ever.

When a child is living with mental illness, it can be really scary for them to not know what is going on, and it’s easy for kids to feel out of control, especially since most of what is scary in the world right now is also out of their control.

One of the first steps in destigmatizing mental illness and talking to kids about it is to make sure you know something about various mental illnesses yourself. While searching for terms online or even looking through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) can be quite helpful, talking to people who actually have the diagnosis you want to learn about tends to prove the most insightful, especially with respect to what might be most helpful. There are many who have written books about their experiences, such as Emmy Kegler, author of All Who Are Weary. Others have shared their experiences through YouTube or TikTok.

Once you have a basic understanding, check out spaces, policies, practices, and language in your community of faith to see if there are ways to make it safer for people with mental illness. Avoiding connecting mental illness with biblical demon possession; not using words like crazy, insane, or bipolar to describe things; and being explicit about God’s presence even when we feel alone or bad about ourselves can all be very helpful shifts for people of all ages with mental illnesses.

Then talk about it! Talk about feeling sad, having no energy, being desperate for something different. Having conversations with children and especially youth about mental illness in ways that normalize it can help them feel safe to ask for help if they need it. These conversations can be children’s times, Bible studies, or just hanging out. If your congregation holds a Blue Christmas service, is it kid-friendly? Can children and youth participate fully? Also, one great book to help younger kids know their feelings are valid and that it’s okay to not be okay is Grump, Groan, Growl. The most important part is to start talking about it and to help kids and youth know they are not alone.

Topics: Children Ministry, Youth Ministry, Mental health

Emily E. Ewing

Written by Emily E. Ewing

Rev. Emily E. Ewing (they/them) dedicates their life to justice work locally and globally, revels in creativity and art, and is fed by Lutheran theological geekiness. They are a proud member of Proclaim, a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and they curate, a blog that queers and queries weekly Bible texts. They also cohost both Nerds At Church, a podcast connecting weekly Bible readings and all things nerdery, and Horror Nerds At Church, a podcast exploring horror and faith. You can find them on Twitter at @rev_ewing.


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