Sometimes as a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or youth leader, you will be approached by children with very big and dangerous problems to discuss. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as many as 1 out of 5 children experience depression. Additionally, studies show normal children today report more anxiety than child psychiatric patients of the 1950s. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Americans aged 10 to 34. Mental health is an important issue that needs to be addressed!
Do you remember being a kid? I do.
I remember how big my feelings were. I remember feeling as if it were the end of the world when a relationship didn’t work out, when I got a bad grade, when I made a wrong choice, when my parents fought, or when anything went wrong at all. As a kid, I didn’t realize that these feelings were wrong because I rarely voiced them at all, and feelings that I did feel were wrong I was afraid to share anyway.
Because children will rarely voice their big and dangerous feelings, it’s important that they 1) know that they can, and 2) know their feelings are okay. The children in your church or your family may never seek you out to speak one-on-one about what is going on with them, but you can still make a life-saving difference by educating them about mental health.
When you’re working with youth at home, school, or church, consider the following:
- Instead of singling out a child of concern, sow seeds of love to the whole group. Affirm that feelings are okay. Educate the group about unsafe feelings and thoughts. Share, display, and memorize hotlines as you would any other emergency number.
- Instead of harsh discipline for sudden behavior changes, show concern and love to your youth. Use an instance of disobedience as a conversation starter. Oftentimes children can’t identify a cause for a poor choice. You can get to the bottom of it by talking it out. If they don’t want to talk, ask them to write an explanation for their actions, even if it’s something they have to make up. It will still make them think over what they’ve done.
- Instead of talking about the problem to the parent, find a solution together with the parent and the child. Meet together with parents and children. The parent will appreciate your concern, and the youth will appreciate being involved. Do not dwell on the bad behavior. Acknowledge briefly that it’s interrupting your work with the group and how and then start problem-solving!
- Instead of forcing participation, discover the cause for the lack of interest. If a child has been engaged and interested until this point, there may be a serious cause for the change. Sudden changes in interest and behavior are a sign of depression.
- Instead of avoiding tough topics, educate, educate, educate. Mental health is a taboo topic even among adults, but it’s affecting people of all ages. Mental health issues that go unresolved contribute to relationship problems, addiction, joblessness, depression, and more. It is time that the stigma dies so that our youth can live!
Do yourself and your youth a favor by educating yourself first.
Find out which of your youth are at risk for depression and suicide here.
Implement these 3 keys to addressing mental health in your ministry here.
Discover and share mental health resources for college-age students here.
Find resources for Mental Health Sabbath and more here.