The rise in the prevalence of teen mental health issues is surely not news to any of you reading this blog. Over here at Faithtree, we are plugged into this reality and have spent much time reading countless articles and studies reporting that mental health is a significant and growing problem, specifically for adolescents.
Since the beginning of our development of The Relationship Project, Episode 3 has been slotted to address teen loneliness. This summer, after our team learned of seven separate suicides or suicide attempts in our community, we knew we needed to expand the episode to address the greater landscape of mental health struggles, and to equip our faithful leaders to be able to offer the life-giving response our church provides.
Before diving into this lofty endeavor, we wanted to be clear on just how prevalent these issues are in our community and how much of a need there is for resources for our church leaders and parents. To that end, a few weeks ago, Faithtree conducted a survey exploring the prevalence of mental health issues amongst our teens in the Orthodox community. Unfortunately, we are here to report that our community is not immune to these growing trends.
The reflections of parents, clergy, youth workers, and young adults echoed the studies that we have read. Mental health is definitely a prevalent issue for teens in our Orthodox Church, and most notable – very few of our parents, clergy, and youth workers report feeling very equipped to walk with our teens through these struggles.
If you are interested in some of the specific results of our survey, see the charts below.
YOUTH WORKER RESPONSES
As you can see from the above charts, the prevalence of these mental health issues are significant and the data collected is eye-opening, particularly when comparing the percentage of respondents who felt very equipped to assist teens through these issues with the prevalence of the issues. Additionally, it is important to note that all three groups of respondents reported that anxiety is biggest emotional struggle they see prevalent in their teen’s lives.
We found the data above extremely useful; however, even more enlightening were the reflections and stories that our survey participants shared. We want to take the time to share with you a few of the major themes we found from these reflections.
From the clergy and youth workers, we read that a major theme is teens opening up too little or too late. It was reflected that often, our traditional models of youth ministry do not facilitate the proper space for kids to open up in. Additionally, the time constraints on our leaders make it difficult for them to take the time to build deep connections with their teen parishioners, the kinds of connections that could facilitate this opening up. There is also an understandable fear of knowing the best way to respond when a teen does open up with a serious struggle – this was reflected as “nerve-wracking” and we couldn’t agree more!
Respondents also reflected on the lack of Orthodox materials available that address mental health – and that some of the materials that do exist, often do not synthesize both the spiritual guidance with clinical guidance.
From our group of parent respondents, we read many reflections of the pain they feel when they watch their children or relatives struggle and while they all seek to maintain the necessary connection with their children and get them the help they need – it is a hard road, and one they are desperate for support on.
Across all categories, respondents reflected on the intense pressures our teens are facing in school, from society, from their peers, through social media, and even from family. It often feels like the external realities set up the teens for these mental health struggles.
Many of our schools, doctors, and social service organizations are working hard to help our adolescents. There is a lot of work being done by way of awareness, intervention, and programming to aid teens through these struggles.
So what is the church’s role in all of this?
We know that the layer of healing that our church can provide, in conjunction with medical and clinical aid, offers a significantly greater source of strength for our teens than the medical and clinical alone. When we are attentive to our spiritual lives, when we are deeply engaged in the life of the Church, while also receiving the medical and clinical support we need, we are far more likely to find true and deep healing.
So how do we extend this source of healing to our teens?
The top two resources requested by clergy and youth workers were 1) Ongoing facilitated conversations and 2) Youth ministry curriculum.
The top three resources requested by parents were 1) Youth ministry curriculum, 2) Referral to an Orthodox Mental Health provider and 3) Direct counseling from parish priest or youth worker.
With the results from this survey, we are even more convinced than ever that we need to get good resources to our church leaders on this issue. We have already begun working hard, collaborating with theologians and mental health professionals, to get you that support and provided we meet our fundraising goals, we hope to provide you with resources in hand at the beginning of 2019.
We are so grateful for the significant participation we received in this survey. Thank you all for helping us in this process. If you want to continue to support the production of these resources, we appreciate any and all contributions towards this project.
We will continue to be in touch with you as these resources progress. Thank you for your support and contribution!
Written by: Anna Kallis, M.Div.
Youth Ministry Programs Director