By Kristin Schultz
Youth and adolescents have always faced challenges. In recent years, however, these challenges and pressures seem to be mounting and taking serious tolls on our kids. Responding to anxiety in the youth ministry requires observation, empathy, grace, and discernment.
Children and Teen Anxiety Statistics
Instances of youth and teen anxiety and related mental health issues are on the rise. Between 2016 and 2019, 9.4% of children were diagnosed with anxiety. That’s almost 10% of our kids, and that’s before Covid-related school closures kept students home, isolated, and—in many cases—with unlimited access to social media.
In 2003, 5.4% of children (6–17 years old) were diagnosed with anxiety or depression. By 2007, that number was 8% and in 2011–2012, the number was 8.4%.
Perhaps this does not come as a surprise. Perhaps you yourself dealt with your own anxiety or perhaps you have spent years working with the youth ministry and responding to the anxieties of children at your church. With mental health issues increasing among our young people, we must recognize that God has put us on the front lines so that we can get our youth the help they need.
What to Watch For
It is normal for teens to feel some level of anxiety from time to time. Transitioning from middle school to high school students, fitting in with friends, and making plans for life after high school are all stressful. Add on top of that the intense and rapid physical changes that teens experience and it’s no wonder that adolescents experience periods of feeling anxious.
In youth ministry, we need to be observant. Most of us are mandated reporters so we automatically look out for signs of abuse or other situations for which we would need to contact the authorities. We should be just as observant about our kids’ mental health. Responding to anxiety means that we first detect it within the youth ministry.
Most stress and anxiety are episodic. If you see prolonged periods of the following behaviors, it may be a sign that the child is dealing with something more serious:
- Feeling irritable or nervous
- Feeling restless, wound up, or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Sleep problems
- Stomach problems or headaches
Responding to Youth Anxiety
As youth leaders within the ministry, we need to be aware of what’s going on in our kids’ lives so that we can respond appropriately to it with the love and grace of Jesus. In most instances, the anxiety that young people experience is temporary. In these cases, we have many ways to help kids:
- Create an open environment where teens can talk about what’s going on in their lives
- Regularly incorporate mental-health topics into our studies to reduce stigma
- Study Scripture related to our identities in Christ and God’s provision for us
- Pray for youth ministry attendees and their friends struggling with anxiety
- Provide anxiety-specific resources and devotions
Know When to Call in Professionals
While it is normal for teens to experience stress, some kids may be experiencing severe anxiety or a mental-health crisis and need professional help to deal with their mental-health struggles. Responding to youth anxiety and depression sometimes means referring students to resources that we simply cannot provide.
A clinically diagnosable anxiety disorder should be treated by a licensed, trained professional. Of course, we can—and should!—pray for, encourage, and be a listening ear to them. But if and when we as youth leaders see signs that young people are not coping well with daily life, stress or think they could hurt themselves, we must enlist professional resources like school social workers or refer them to Christian counseling for teens.
Teenagers face more challenges, more anxiety, and more stress than ever before. We know it because we see the effects of feeling overwhelmed in their lives. But we don’t just sit back and watch. As youth workers, we need to understand how to help a teenager with anxiety. We are in a position of responding to anxiety in youth ministry through prayer, helping teenagers with resources for students and parents, and making sure students have access to the support, care, and treatment that they need.
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