How Pastors Can Help • Biblical Recorder

The growing Gen Z mental health crisis is being felt across the country – in schools, families and churches. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recently declared this crisis a national emergency. As a pastor or church leader, you may have a unique opportunity to work alongside educators and parents to make a difference in the lives of young people struggling with mental health.

The Springtide Research Institute recently published sobering results on the mental health trends of Generation Z (13-25 years) two years after COVID-19.

Research found that teenagers and young adults feel extremely depressed, anxious, stressed, and lonely. Over half of young people (53%) said the biggest challenge they faced during the pandemic was their mental health. Almost half of young people (48%) report being moderately or extremely depressed. Another in four say they are extremely stressed (25%). And 1 in 5 say they are extremely anxious (26%) or extremely lonely (21%). Worse, 6 in 10 young people (61%) say adults in their lifetime don’t really know the extent of their struggles. Among them are 59% of the young Protestants.

These trends are not necessarily new. Experts have been monitoring America’s “loneliest” generation and their mental health since before the pandemic. Gen Z faces the normal challenges of typical adolescent insecurities. But there’s really no “normal” to go back to after the pandemic. Their worlds were turned upside down just as they were beginning to find their footing.

We can gradually understand that these years of her life are not belated opportunities and events, like an adult returning to a familiar office with a steady job. Adolescents often lack entire development markers and moments – formative and singular events that in many cases cannot easily be made up for or replaced. And often these losses are coupled and amplified by the loss of support systems that would normally help them thrive in times of uncertainty or growth. Essentially, the pandemic wasn’t just a speed bump in her life. It was a sudden and dramatic left turn.

Anyone working with Gen Z is facing a mental health crisis in this generation on a level they have never seen before.

In Springtide’s new report Mental Health & Gen Z: What Educators Need to Know, Springtide Executive Director Dr. Josh Packardunpacks a heavy burden that is familiar to both faith leaders and educators working with young people.

“Over the last decade, many teachers have been trained to spot the warning signs of mental health crises in our students, point them to resources, and review them regularly—all while doing the thousands of other things that make up our work.” make out,” says Packard. “But sometimes it doesn’t work. We don’t see. We are too busy or too untrained, or the situation is simply beyond our ability to see and react to.”

This typical approach – which focuses on surveillance and individual crisis intervention where necessary – is still critical work. But what if twice as many students get into the crisis? An already challenging task can easily become overwhelming. For many churches, there simply are not enough trusted adults to meet the growing need. So the answer is to focus time and resources on building a culture that is beneficial to mental health and goes beyond crisis response.

There are a number of actions that faith leaders and communities can take to begin caring for young people in ways that mitigate mental health issues before they become crises. Some of these are pragmatic — staying in touch, offering referrals to mental health professionals, and financial help with counseling costs. While these pragmatic things are crucial, research shows that young people need more.

A key finding of the Springtide Mental Health Study is that young people who feel included in a community say they “thrive strongly” in their mental health, at significantly higher rates than those who don’t feel included feel. Of course, belonging isn’t just the result of well-designed programs. It’s also a function of highly relational practices like knowing their names, acknowledging their presence and absence, remembering details they’ve shared about their lives, and—especially for this generation—being aware of their identity and them value (e.g. racial or ethnic). .

A 2020 Springtide report showed a pattern in young people’s stories as they journey from first joining to experiences of belonging. As they spoke, three distinct feelings kept coming up: feeling noticed, being named, and feeling known. This pattern reappeared in interviews for this report. This pattern of going from noticed to named to known is known as known belonging process.

Young people initially enter into relationships, groups and organizations because of certain things they have in common – shared interests, values, beliefs, practices, vocations or occupations. But they stay in those relationships when they feel like they belong. Pastors and church leaders should lead the way in cultivating a sense of belonging for young people.

Here are three actions pastors can take to foster a stronger sense of belonging among young people in your church:

1. Look for outliers

Consider young people who are likely to be prone to it Not feel they are part of your church community – perhaps minorities, people with withdrawn personalities, or people who participate unevenly. Assess what you can do to help these students.

2. Consider assigning adult mentors to your students

Be it an elder or deacon, a co-worker, or someone whose children are grown, this adult can be someone with whom students can connect beyond typical church activities. These mentors do not have to be trained psychiatrists, but they should be willing to listen and ready to help a student find the resources they need.

3. Provide mental health first aid awareness training to students

When it comes to conversations about mental health, young people naturally turn to each other. The more peer connections they have, the better. But beyond that, you can empower young people to help one another. Students can be better equipped to help their friends and, more importantly, know when to raise a concern with a trusted adult. Mental Health First Aid is an organization that offers this training.

Many churches are doing a good job helping Gen Z to feel recognized, named and known on a fundamental level. However, there are important places where pastors can seek to dig deeper into this dynamic and truly create a sense of belonging that leads to connectedness. Taking action to build connections in your youth group or college ministry is a surefire way to create an environment that is, at its core, conducive to mental health.

This article first appeared here.

(EDITORS NOTE – Jamieson Taylor is a freelance writer who works in media and public relations for Springtide Research Institute. Kevin Singer is director of media and public relations for Springtide Research Institute and teaches religious studies courses at community colleges. He was involved in North American Church Planting Mission Board from 2009-14.)

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