Discover how ministry professionals combat loneliness, embrace vulnerability, and form deeper connections.
Guiding Teens Through Mental Health Challenges in Youth Ministry
A few years ago, we initiated “ASK THE PASTOR ANYTHING,” an annual event where students can ask our pastor and a panel of adults any questions about life and faith. The inquiries were insightful, and it was intriguing to discover what was on their minds. About a year ago, we decided to turn the tables:
WHAT'S THE SINGLE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOUNG PEOPLE YOUR AGE FACE TODAY?
We provided them with a platform to respond anonymously via texting software, with their answers displayed on a screen. The predominant responses, while not surprising, were disheartening. The foremost challenge facing young people in our community was related to MENTAL HEALTH.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE EXPERTS
Before delving deeper into this subject, I must clarify that I am not a mental health expert. My insights are derived from my experiences in ministry, along with suggestions on addressing this challenging topic. A vital lesson in dealing with mental health in ministry is recognizing the experts in my parish and community. Identifying those with a strong faith is crucial, as they become valuable allies when situations exceed my expertise.
Even with a background in mental health, seeking advice from knowledgeable professionals is beneficial. While we are tasked with accompanying children, teenagers, and their families, it's not our duty to "fix" their issues. Our role is to be present, ensuring they never feel alone.
BUILDING SAFE AND LOVING ENVIRONMENTS
Discussing mental health issues demands considerable vulnerability. There's a stigma associated with it, influencing our perceptions and handling of these situations. Contrary to the misconception that we can manage these issues solo, the truth is markedly different. As ministry leaders, we can challenge these stigmas by fostering safe and loving environments.
This can begin with simple steps. Ensure that every environment, space, and program conveys a welcoming message. Train your team to greet people warmly and facilitate connections, especially with newcomers.
In small groups and classes, it's essential for leaders to establish ground rules that prioritize listening and mutual support. The impulse to solve someone's problems may arise from our discomfort, but steering the group towards empathy teaches them to emulate Christ's love for their neighbors.
PROVIDING EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
Given the prevalent stigmas surrounding mental health, keeping the community informed is crucial. Understanding the Church's teachings and supporting those struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is vital. The aim isn't to transform everyone into experts but to keep them informed on how to support those in need.
Educating our volunteers, families, and students about empathy can prevent the shaming often associated with these issues. Equip your parish for success by maintaining an informed community.
CENTER YOUR MINISTRY ON PRAYER
Prayer should be at the heart of ministry, not an afterthought. Centering your ministry around prayer involves teaching leaders to use prayer in uncertain times. When teens or parents present challenging situations, relying on prayer is crucial, inviting the Holy Spirit's guidance.
Providing prayer exercises and opportunities can guide young people and their families to rely on God during tough times. This helps them eliminate confusion and find direction.
A ministry focused on prayer demonstrates the integration of faith and God in the healing process. While prayer alone won't solve their troubles, it provides a foundational support system for seeking necessary help.
Mental health is a challenging topic, often causing discomfort, but it's a critical area that requires attention and more expertise. Don't hesitate to address this topic with your pastor and fellow believers. United in God's love, no problem is too daunting to confront.
WHAT RESOURCES OR PEOPLE HAVE YOU FOUND HELPFUL IN THE FIELD OF MENTAL HEALTH AND MINISTRY?
If you know of someone who is Catholic and has expertise in the field that you believe we should connect with let us know at email@example.com.