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The Struggle is Real: Helping Teens with Mental Health

About 20% of teens struggle with mental health. You’ve probably had a teenager who has wrestled with this, and a significant part of your youth group likely experiences some kind of mental health issue. So how can you help? The good news is that as a Youth Minister and someone walking with teens in the faith, Christ gives us real tools to help teens actively struggling with mental health.

The Model

So, where do we begin? One of the greatest things we can do for teens and those struggling with mental health is model that health to others. We can ask first: how am I doing? Am I pausing for prayer/quiet time/ lunch/exercise/fun? When we take the time to check in with ourselves, we model this pursuit of mental health for those around us.

It’s key for all of us to do our work and seek out the help and healing we need. As Youth Ministers and someone who is helping others, we also need to care for our mental well being and have the tools and support necessary for our lives. This might mean having our own therapist, counselor, and good support on hand. Pausing and finding our own well being important allows us to pick up the tools God has given us and share those with others in need.

One Savior

The biggest relief as we walk with teens in mental health is that we don’t need to have all the answers. We are not the final stop in someone’s road to healing and are called to connect them with professional therapists, crisis counselors, doctors, priests, and their own family support. God works through His Church, professionals, and family for the healing of His children. Knowing it’s not all on us allows Christ to work and gives us the freedom to help teens pick up real tools and ask for the help they need.

Real Steps

As we care for our mental health and let Christ be Christ, we can point teens towards tools to help their mental health. This journey of healing involves real steps we can take to help teens grow in their mental health.

Personal Check In’s
The saying goes: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s a true gift for a teen to have an adult or friend who intentionally checks in. We can check in with those struggling and let them know we care. We all thrive with more support! This involves active listening, asking those open-ended questions, and simply being available.

It’s Real Now
Oftentimes, simply saying a feeling or thought out loud is a moment of relief and freedom. We can underestimate the power of acknowledging thoughts and feelings as real and actually happening. Journaling also makes a huge difference and helps teens to understand what is going on in their heads. We can encourage writing in prayer or a letter to someone in their lives (that they don’t send) for clarity and to sort out their thoughts and emotions.

Name It To Tame It
In his book “Love and Responsibility,” St. John Paul II explains that our emotions and feelings actually point to our deeper values and what is important to us. We can help teens understand what is essential and what is going on in their lives by asking them to name their feelings. One simple way is to ask a teen where are you in the buckets (imagine big red buckets) of sad, mad, glad, and afraid? Simplifying and naming what they are experiencing gives insight into what they are dealing with and provides more options!

You Are Not ‘Crazy’
The reality of mental health is that most people, at some point, experience anxiety and depressive or negative thoughts. Today there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and what it means to be crazy. Letting teens know that they are not crazy or the only ones carrying these struggles lightens the load and brings hope. While normalizing that anxious and negative thoughts do occur, we can encourage and normalize the need to expand our tool kits and coping skills to handle these things when they do come.

Ask The Healer
Lastly, we can invite the God of life, Healer of healers, into our journey with those around us in prayer and petition. God longs to heal as He did through Christ building His Kingdom on earth. That same Holy Spirit is still here and available to us. He is working through the tools, professionals, and support in these teens’ lives. As sons and daughters of the Most High, we can be instruments of His healing grace as we intentionally pray for their healing and journey in taking real steps towards better mental health.

Christ longs to heal, and puts real steps, tools, and people before us to help those struggling with mental health. So much healing comes from sharing, naming, praying, and seeking help for those struggling with mental health. As brothers and sisters, we can walk with one another towards this help and the peace that Christ provides.

Photo by Patryk Sobczak on Unsplash

About the Author

Adam Cross

I am a Marriage and Family therapist and Youth Minister in SoCal. I love the intersection of psychology and theology, and I provide therapy over video chat for people looking for a Catholic therapist in my state. I love reading Fulton Sheen, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, and love the band the Oh Hellos!

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