How youth pastors face the mental health crisis of teens
April 26, 2023
Among a thousand other causes, social media has put enormous pressure on young people, and it's increasingly clear that one result is what's being termed a mental health crisis for teenagers. (And May will be Mental Health Awareness Month.)
Over the last few years, teens who have led the Youth Sunday worship service at my congregation, for instance, have talked with us about the hate and destruction they find on social media and how it can destroy or at least challenge their mental well-being.
This Religion News Service story adds to that picture by describing how youth pastors in various congregations are having to confront mental health issues related to the teenagers they serve.
The story quotes Kevin Singer, a sociologist of religion, this way: “'Mental health issues among young Americans have reached epidemic levels.' He cited a report released last fall by Springtide Research Institute, where he serves as a national speaker, on the mental health of Generation Z. It found that majorities of young people reported being moderately to severely depressed, anxious and lonely."
The story then adds this: "At the same time, Singer said, the data makes it clear that spirituality contributes to more robust mental health. 'The one thing we can say, based on our data, is that there is a very positive relationship between mental health thriving and the degree to which a young person identifies as religious or spiritual' (though, as Singer pointed out, they may define spirituality very differently from older generations)."
The issues teens face today -- beyond the ones they've always faced about figuring out who they are and what their future is -- include things as stark as whether they'll be shot if they happen to ring the wrong doorbell and how the faulty American systems of government, the economy, the legal system, policing, race relations and more will affect their lives.
And the phenomenon is not as new as you may think. As this Christian Century article notes, the trend began as far back as 2012. That story then reports this: "In his newsletter, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points to the 'rewiring of childhood' in the 2010s with the widespread use of mobile devices and social media. Girls report experiencing more online bullying and harassment than boys, and Haidt observes that even those who aren’t chronically online may suffer. When all your peers are posting, you can feel isolated, lonely, and depressed if you aren’t joining them."
In the Kansas City area, the organization called YouthFront, which not only helps train youth pastors but offers camping and other experiences to thousands of area youth, has developed this approach to mental health issues among young people, as shared with me by Mike King, YouthFront's president and CEO:
"Our staff at Youthfront increasingly heard requests for help from parents, churches, pastors and caregivers trying to navigate mental health issues among their kids. We were seeing the symptoms of what we now know is a national crisis, as declared by The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Association. Out of our heartbreak and concern for these precious young people, we felt called to respond to what we were seeing nationally and feeling amongst the families and churches we serve in our ministries: Youthfront established Presence-Centered Counseling (PCC) as our in-house mental health services affiliate.
"PCC serves children, youth, couples, individuals and families, and in its first full year in 2022, provided hundreds of counseling sessions to youth and adults alike. Our lead therapist, Jamie Roach, LPC, brings a depth of experience and parenting expertise. PCC’s other therapist, Caroline Oas, LPC, specializes in play therapy for young children. In addition to their work with clients, Jamie and Caroline also speak to churches, pastors and small groups about mental health issues among our children and teenagers.
"Youthfront seeks to support youth pastors as they navigate these issues, through coaching, consultation and training. Youthfront has also received a substantial grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to focus on 'Christian Parenting and Caregiving.' This provides a strategic initiative to train, coach and resource parents, churches and other caregivers of young people to take an active role in the spiritual formation of youth and address their wellbeing.
"Youthfront is also committed to a theologically robust approach to the mental health and spiritual development of youth utilizing best practices from the psychological field without surrendering to a therapeutic worldview."
(Disclosure: one of my daughters, Lisen Tammeus Mann, is YouthFront's vice president of development.)
How is your congregation handling this matter? If you don't know, it's time to find out.
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THE IMMORALITY OF THE DEATH PENALTY
Once again our distorted criminal justice system is off on the wrong track. This time it's about the horrific shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Jury selection began this week, and prospective jurors are being asked if they'd have any problem sentencing the defendant to the death penalty if he's found guilty. There is no good, moral reason for our legal system to have capital punishment as an option. It isn't a deterrent, it's far more expensive than life in prison and it lowers the state to the level of the criminal. Beyond that, of course, the system gets it wrong sometimes and innocent people get killed by the state. Let's change this barbaric system of blood for blood.
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P.S.: A nearly complete ancient Hebrew Bible -- one of the oldest surviving manuscripts -- is going to be auctioned off in May, this AP story reports. It's expected to bring between $30 million and $50 million. If that's too much for you, I've got a couple of different Hebrew Bibles that I'll lend you for either nothing, if that's all you can afford, or for you making a small donation to the synagogue in the KC area that lists me as an honorary member. First come, first served.
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ANOTHER P.S.: An online event tomorrow evening will feature Fox and Rob Richardson, creators of the book and Oscar-nominated documentary called "Time." At the event, sponsored by the Equal Justice USA Evangelical Network, the Richardsons will talk about how they fought to keep their family together as he spent more than 20 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary named Angola, and how faith played a key role in their family's survival. You can register for this free event here.
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AND A THIRD P.S.: Markandey Katju, former justice on India's Supreme Court and a boyhood friend from my time in India, again this year observed a day of fasting in Ramadan even though he describes himself as a Hindu atheist. Here is his story about why he does that and why it's important.