Many mental health disorders first surface during adolescence, and college and youth pastors are in a good position to offer help or steer youths elsewhere to find it. But many of those pastors feel ill-prepared to recognize and treat mental illness, according to a Baylor University study.
While the study by Baylor researcher Matthew Stafford identifies a challenging situation confronting congregations, there are existing resources for those churches and clergy who want to effectively minister to depressed youth.
“There’s a lot congregations can do,” Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, managing director of resource development with American Baptist Home Mission Societies and director of interfaith engagement with the American Association of People with Disabilities, told Baptist News Global seperately.
It’s especially important ministers do this because of the high depression and suicide rates among young adults, Ramsey-Lucas said.
“The available resources … can get people thinking these things through, like how to make referrals and when that is needed,” he said.
Congregations can also seek to partner with non-profit and medical organizations that treat mental illness, he said.
But he added that the responsibility doesn’t reside solely with individual clergy and churches.
“There needs to be greater attention in terms of seminary education for clergy … in how to identify mental health concerns in a congregation or in an age group,” Ramsey-Lucas said.
Depression Most Prevalent Issue
The Baylor study shows why action is needed by and on behalf of youth ministers.
Unlike senior pastors, those who work with young people are expected to have more extensive contact with their congregants because this likely occurs outside of church services, researchers said.
Because youth groups are smaller than the congregations themselves, a greater chance exists for deep relationships between pastors and adolescents, including through one-on-one counseling, Bible study groups, mission trips and service opportunities, said researcher Stafford, professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Study respondents were 94 youth and college pastors representing churches ranging in size from 45 to 8,000 members. Churches were located in Abilene, Austin, College Station, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, San Antonio, the Temple-Killeen area and Waco.
The survey showed that:
• 50 percent said they had received training related to mental illness, but only 26 percent reported they felt qualified to work with young people dealing with significant mental health issues.
• 78.7 percent had worked with one to 10 adolescents a year whom they knew or believed had mental health issues.
• 76 percent had referred an adolescent congregant to a Christian counselor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but pastors who made referrals were most likely to do so to a Christian counselor.
Youth pastors ranked depression as the most prevalent mental health issue they have seen among youths, followed by pornography addiction, grief/bereavement, anxiety, aggression/anger, sexual behavior, alcohol/drug abuse, ADHD, emotional abuse, eating disorders, stress from having a family member with a mental health issue, domestic or spousal abuse, juvenile delinquency, gender identity, sexual assault/abuse and physical abuse.
The study showed that youth and college pastors’ most common method of intervention was to meet with the adolescent and refer the individual to a mental health professional. While many of the pastors described using biblical counseling methods, some counseled primarily with psychological concepts, using such methods as developing coping skills or role-playing.
The sample of youth pastors showed they believe that psychological well-being affects spiritual development. But they lacked training and confidence to interact with the mental health system, and some tensions and conflicts exist between pastors and mental health professionals.
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Terry Goodrich and Jeff Brumley