In youth ministry, your mission is to promote the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical well-being of all youth under your wing. And now, during a global pandemic, which has forced the world to shut down and become shut-in, and while your job may look 100% different than it did six weeks ago, your mission is still the same. It is understandable that students may be struggling more than the “norm” during this time.
CHALLENGES UNIQUE TO YOUTH DURING THIS TIME
- Social isolation has dramatically increased over the last six weeks
- Screen time has dramatically increased (you know the stats on screen time – decreased attention span, increased anxiety and depression, increased chance of obesity)
- Social Media use has increased (pseudo-connection with an increased chance for bullying)
- Teens can be reluctant to verbally process, share feelings, and ask for/accept help
- Home life might be tumultuous at best for some youth, and now they are forced to stay there
- Big life plans (summer trips, camps, graduation, college, etc.) have been put on hold or cancelled
- Possible acute or long-term financial instability/ food insecurity
- This might be the hardest thing they have been through to-date, and no one in their life has ever experienced anything similar
We will all feel the weight and effects of this pandemic for years to come, and we will all process in our own ways. However, teens who are already at-risk for depression or suicidal thoughts/ideation need to be monitored and cared for closely and in unique ways.
How do you know if one of your youth is struggling more than the “norm” right now?
SIGNS OF DEPRESSION / SUICIDAL IDEATION OR THOUGHTS
This may be hard to monitor while not in-person, but if a teen is withdrawing from activities that usually bring them pleasure, this could be a sign of depression.
- VERBAL SIGNS
Teens may tell you or a loved one:
- “I just don’t think I can live like this anymore”
- “I don’t want to live like this anymore”
- “My family/this world will be better without me”
- “Everything would be easier if I were gone/dead”
- “I just can’t see a future anymore”
- PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
- Bags/dark circles under eyes
- Lack of sleep // sleeping too much // unusual sleep patterns
- Cutting marks on arms/wrists
- Inability to focus
- Rapid weight loss or gain // Loss of appetite
- GIVING POSSESSIONS AWAY
If a teen begins giving away their favorite possessions, they may be looking for ways to have their friends and family be reminded of them after they are gone.
While we all hope to never be in a situation where we are on the front line of helping a teen through the darkest moments of their life, we must be prepared that it is always a possibility – especially now. Here are some ways you can help:
ACUTELY OR ACTIVELY SUICIDAL:
The following information is taken from the community-version of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating scale (C-SSRS). If a teen says or does anything that makes you think they are actively suicidal, act quickly and calmly:
- DON’T BE AFRAID to ask the following:
- Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?
- Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself? If the loved one answers “yes” to question 2, ask questions 3, 4, 5 and 6. If the person answers “no” to question 2, go directly to question 6.
- Have you thought about how you might do this?
- Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself?, OR, You have the thoughts, but you definitely would not act on them?
- Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan?
- Always ask question 6: In the past three months, have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life?
- REMEMBER: In these crucial scenarios, SAFETY outweighs CONFIDENTIALITY; depending on the state in which you practice youth ministry, you may be a mandated reporter.
- ASK the teen to tell their parent/guardian, or state that you would like to tell their parent/guardian – but between the two of you, someone has to tell them.
- BE PREPARED – Have the home address(es) of each youth easily accessible in case you have to be the one to call 9-1-1.
- ENCOURAGE them to seek the help and advice of a counselor, therapist, or a supportive stranger by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). If a traditional talk therapist sounds intimidating to them, try Music Therapy, Art Therapy, or any other Creative Arts Therapy – research has proven these modalities to be effective for teens who are reluctant to attend talk therapy.
OTHER WAYS TO CARE FOR TEENS WHO ARE ANXIOUS, DEPRESSED OR ISOLATED:
Weekly or even daily personalized and individualized check-ins with at-risk and/or all youth (phone calls, texts, email, Zoom calls – whatever is THEIR preference is best).
Offer online get-togethers as often as you can for your youth. If they are struggling, they may not attend each one; but knowing they have the option might help them not to feel alone.
Snail mail, 3rd party delivery (Uber Eats, Door Dash, Amazon etc.), or even front-door drop-off. Leave encouraging messages, a Bible if they don’t have one, snacks, whatever you think would make them feel loved. (For more ideas like this, see our article on Reaching Students Beyond Zoom).
Not only with you, but with their friends, family, and others in the youth group. The more that teens can feel connected and not alone, the better!
Encourage your youth to go outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D whenever they can! This change of scenery and the physical benefits of being outside and getting exercise can help all of us take a much-needed break and even change our thinking and perspective!
MUSIC & ARTS
Encourage active engagement in music listening and music-making, creating and enjoying art – this can emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and psychologically benefit our brains and bodies!
Mallory Even, LPMT, MT-BC, is a Board-Certified and Licensed Professional Music Therapist. She earned her degree in Music Therapy at The Florida State University, and has owned her private practice, Metro Music Therapy, which is based in Peachtree Corners, GA (NE Atlanta), for over 12 years. Mallory has a heart for using music to serve others, both professionally and personally, and has been a worship leader at various churches in Florida and Georgia throughout the last 20 years.
You can contact Mallory by sending her an email.