Mental Health – it’s the hot topic of the moment when it comes to working with young people. But how well are we managing to keep up as Christian Youth workers and churches? That was the topic for discussion when we gathered a group of youth leaders for a Round table discussion in November.
It was evident that all of us had brought our own stories, questions and experiences with us and evident that the young people in our youth ministries are all grappling with questions around mental health, whether for themselves or for their friends and families.
We brought some really big questions with us:
- When do I talk to parents/school about mental health disclosure?
- How can we best support and help young people when the NHS/School systems are so full of people needing help?
- How can we best support CYP, families, and peers who struggle with mental health (ADHD, Autism, Self-Harm, Suicide)?
- What’s the scale of the problem?
And some wide ranging concerns
- Anxiety – an epidemic
- Gender dysphoria
- Not knowing who to go to to find information
- Culture of escalation/Rising tide
- Meeting needs of CYP and parents
- Supporting schools
- Dealing with suicide
It felt to the whole group like a whole lot had changed in the landscape in the last 5 years or so…
- Increased pressure on young people – like Image and social media and Career choice by Year 8
- Decreased CAMHS capacity
- Social media – Cyber bullying = 24/7, Role models, Trolling
- Drugs – MCATs, Vaping, Sex, Psychosis
- Labelling– Traits vs. Diagnosis, Self/Parent Diagnosing
- On the plus side – it’s now ‘on the radar’ -Some church engagement, Talking more, More resources & expertise
But we felt, there were a growing number of challenges for us as Youth leaders. Ranging from:
- Being Leaders with mental health struggles or working along side colleagues who are struggling
- Organisations, like NHS and local government, sometimes looking to churches to pick up the slack
- Support can be very resource heavy (especially for Leaders)
- What does Discipleship look like in all this?
- How do we support Parents
- Facing issues of Suicide in our ministries
- Engaging with issues around Gender dysphoria – challenges of legality, safeguarding, parents, and leaders’ clarity.
- And many more
So what was the group’s advice for youth leaders?
- Talk about Mental Health issues – both in up front/organised Talks and but also in passing conversations
- Be Pro-active in engagement when stuff has gone wrong
- Create programmes that encourage positive mental health – engaging with exercise, quiet space, fun, etc
And, finally, Jackie (Diocesan Safe Guarding Adviser) and I (Sarah) got our homework to do, with requests for:
- Training Days
- In-house or small regional events
- Potential of working with candidates
- Professionals – get it right
- Process mapping for disclosures
- Resource list (to include Christian counselling and secular counselling)
- Gather stories from people who’ve gone through youth groups with mental health struggles
- Create a debrief process for leaders and safeguarding advisers
- Support for Campaigning on Mental Health issues
We’re in discussion about how we follow up – so watch this space!
A huge thank you to those youth leaders who brought their wisdom and expertise to the discussion. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve got thoughts. And please know, if you’re grappling with Mental Health challenges in your ministry, we’re here to support you!