We have had a pretty hectic spring season with our students. There are a lot of different events going on, different needs for different groups and a lot of tough conversations with students. Something that has been on my radar a lot lately has been mental illness, suicide, self-harm and depression. These things are coming after our kids in a big way. Growing up is hard. We as adults are quick to look past the frustrations of our youth because we made it through those times. Yet, for them the pressures and stresses they face are monumental. Here are some things I’ve learned about dealing with these issues, both from helping others and trying to help myself.
A lot of students just need someone to talk with. They want their struggles out of them and for someone to care. When students confess to suicidal thoughts, depression, self-harm, etc. stay calm. Walk with them in this. Listen to what is going on in their lives. Don’t try to solve problems for them or minimize what is happening. Just show up for them.
Partner with parents
When students confess these types of issues you must inform parents. I always encourage the students to talk with the parents immediately and even volunteer to go with the students. I will help the parents find a counselor or help them process what is happening. Kids are often scared to tell their parents what is really going on. However, parents have a right to know and most likely the parents will seek the best help for their kids. Don’t leave parents in the dark in these situations.
Encourage professional help
Encourage the student and their parents to seek professional help. Not merely you taking their child out once a week to talk. Professional help is needed to root out deep seeded hurts, thoughts and patterns that kids have. They may need to provide medication or see specialists.
Don’t just go with your gut feelings on talking about and dealing with these things. Learn more about mental health and how to have conversations with students that address these topics. Seek out facts on mental illness and not just falling into social stigmas or things you read in a magazine.
I think there are still many stigmas about mental illness. From it being embarrassing to see a counselor or being called crazy if you need medication. Create a culture in your ministry that allows students to seek you out for help and then point them in the right direction.
Don’t shy away from tough subjects. Partner with agencies in your community that can come help educate students and parents alike. Speak about mental illness, share testimonies of people who have overcome mental illness, teach students about grace and point them to Jesus. Be bold when dealing with these issues.