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Mental Health Stigma: Is it a reality for your youth group?

For some reason reaching out and getting necessary help is seen as a negative. There’s like this unwritten law and it looks like this: DON’T struggle > DO struggle. It causes many students to feel like there’s no hope for their challenges with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempts, so they don’t reach out, even in youth group.

We (the Church) need to change that, because God sees all life as valuable and filled with purpose. Our message to students needs to reflect these truths.

One of the things I’ve learned working with students who have struggled with mental health issues is that they are afraid to acknowledge it because of the stigma  that if you’re broken mentally then you’re crazy, worthless, or a burden to everyone. I would say the number one thing I hear from students is that they don’t want to be a burden and/or an inconvenience to anyone.

Here are three things you can do to destroy the stigma in your youth group:

Teach About Brokenness – Students need to understand that perfection is unachievable this side of heaven. They need to hear that God isn’t looking for perfection. He’s looking for people who are faithful to the process. Be faithful to the redemption process to the end.

Teach About How We All Struggle – Students need to know that they are not alone in their struggles. They need to hear from someone who is being faithful to the process in spite of their struggles.

Teach About How God Loves and Views Us –  They need to hear that God’s love can’t be earned. It can only be received. Also, his acceptance of us isn’t based on our ability to be perfect.

I actually got the opportunity to write a song. My goal was to encourage those who are struggling mentally, and with the stigma which comes with it. It’s also about a summons to the church to be a bridge connecting those who are often overlooked to Jesus. And when I say “overlooked,” I mean they have been deemed by some as demonic, sinful, not having enough faith, or being judged by God. So I pray that this video encourages someone and the church to do something.

So I pray that this video encourages someone to reach out, and I also pray this video encourages the Church to do something.

Hope it helps,


13 thoughts on “Mental Health Stigma: Is it a reality for your youth group?

  1. Kevin Lockett

    Great article and a great song. We need to talk about this issue more in the church, and not just on the superficial level of “pray about it.” God wants to use people to answer the prayers by providing real support and comfort.

    • Thank you!! I think for so long it seems like the churches stance has only been a traditional spiritual one, and not a holistic one which would support people reaching out and getting the help they need. That’s one of the many reasons I love my church. We are constantly asking ourselves how do we be the church God has called us to be, and not the place tradition has called you to be.

  2. Thanks for this! Great job on a difficult topic.

  3. youthministries

    Thank you for sharing this!
    I have several mentally ill students. When going to our denomination camp this summer, the majority of Youth Pastors have never studied mental illness or even know if their students have mental illness. They don’t even know how to deal with a student who is medically medicated for mental illness! Luckily, I have sociology/crimin degree and have worked with students in the system or/an at risk.
    I do believe God is greater! But our YP’s need to educate themselves!
    This opens a huge discussion! Thank you! I plan to share this with these same YP’s!
    Shawna @youthministries@ocnaz!

    • THanks!! I definitely think YP’s can do a lot of damage unknowingly when dealing with students who struggle mentally. A lot of times we don’t always send the right message. Sometimes we can make general assumptions concerning students who struggle in life. And we forget that each struggle is different. So we make blanket statements about struggling that hurt more of our students then help them.

      One key thing you must understand when speaking to students about our struggles here on earth in the general sense. Each student will receive it in the context of what they are struggling with individually. So be wise and make sure your blanket statements about struggling, meets each student where they are.

      Also, If you are not a professional don’t act like it. Do not diognose and be careful what you say about medication to students because they may be taking them. You may not agree with them, but if the parents are okay with it you want to be on their side and make sure they are taking their medication responsibly.

  4. Linda Davis

    You really nailed a cause I have become strong for. Even the best churches find it easier to celebrate the accomplishments, positive milestones and upbeat occurrences in the lives of their members. But real life has hardships, struggles, fear and pain. Moving into middle and high school is esp. hard for kids today and although we acknowledge the “mean” things like self-centered competition, greed, gossip, bullying, etc., we don’t know how to reach out and love people through those experiences. We don’t know how to invite them to talk about how it feels when your parents divorce, what it’s like to blame yourself when a parent dies or why you’re withdrawing from the group you used to hang out with. I hope your encouragement lets youth leaders know that church is where God wants us to share ALL of life, the good, the bad and the ugly…and that He will send the healing if we allow ourselves to be the conduit.

  5. I have a tough time tacking this issue with our teens….my experience has been more along the lines of teens claiming mental illness almost like an excuse for bad behavior. Or parents labeling their kid with a “disease” because medicating them is easier than working through the tough stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people out there who truly do have these disorders and I mean no disrespect. If anything, the situation I am illustrating only makes it harder for those who really do suffer to be taken seriously. Personally I feel that many youth (and kids, and adults) are wrongfully medicated and slapped with labels far more frequently than what is actually needed. It’s very hard to feel sympathetic in these situations, yet I do truly care about the people themselves. I can’t be the only one feeling like this…any thoughts? I desire to show God’s love and also see His freedom working in people’s lives. Including mental illness. While I recognize that God can use doctors and medications, I think the balance is off.

    • I can totally relate…..There are definitely students who hide behind labels, but we have to resist the desire to see them that way. There’s more going there. If they are truly using this as a crutch then why?? The “why” becomes our target. As long as you view them that way the tough it will be for you to minister to them. So here’s a few t hings I’ve learned to do:

      1.Pray for the holy spirits guidance as you navigate these complicated situations. And then rely and trust on Him over and over.
      2.Actively listen.(ask follow-up questions to dip deeper)
      3.Ask questions and don’t let them get off with padded answers.
      4.Remind them with love that in the real world life doesn’t exempt us from the consequences of our behavior. SO important for them to know that.

      Hope this helps,
      definitely praying for you and your ministry!!
      God bless you

      • Thanks for your insights. It’s definitely a very complicated thing and one I’m glad I don’t have to face without the Holy Spirit. In my flesh I am sure to do or say the wrong thing, but he can fill me with the wisdom and compassion I’d otherwise be lacking. I like what you said about focusing on the “why”…I’ll be keeping that in mind as I navigate ahead. Appreciate it! God bless!

  6. Charles G Flannery

    I earned a masters in counseling in 2000 and am a student once again taking youth min courses online. A big part of my interest is youth mental health especially in a youth ministry/youth group setting. I’ve been shunned by a church pastor as a new believer when in college because I was seen as being punished by God because of my sin. The same pastor who would preach that Jesus died on the cross for all despite our sin was the one that told me I was possessed. I almost left my faith completely but God used this experience to educate others on how wrong this is!! If Jesus still walked this earth in human form would he do that? I doubt it–the one who healed and cast out demons and hugged those with leprosy and healed them??
    I have volunteered at a Christian youth camp for 5 years–my first year I gave my testimony which opened the dialog–teens telling me they felt the same way at times but were fearful of ever telling anyone–and a young 13 year old who had just lost his dad and myself having lost my own at 14 was someone who could relate to him well.

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Mental Health Stigma: Is it a reality...

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