4. Respond with action
Your student may have shared some of their real emotional or practical needs, and the support they need goes beyond words. So think about how you or others could sensitively and deliberately support this student and their family over the coming weeks. This might include setting up regular pastoral check-ins, finding a mentor, helping the whole family through a difficult time, or creatively responding to other needs the student may raise as they battle depression.
5. Involve others, involve professionals
I’ve seen too many people in ministry feel they need to be the one-stop solution for students and their families. This comes from good intentions, but there comes a point where we are limited in our skills and training. Even though I work with youth in crisis on a daily basis, my team members and I know when we have reached the extent of our abilities and when it’s time to refer students to a professional. Ask around for recommendations of good practitioners in your community, and work with the family to make sure they’re accessing quality mental health support. It’s a good idea to involve your student’s family as early as possible and caring to do so.
If at any point a student’s depression leads to conversations of suicide, get him or her professional support right away. Thoughts of suicide are very real when a student begins to talk about methods and plans. At this point, you or the student’s family should either be driving the student to the Emergency Room or calling 911. While this is hard to do, it’s also the tough call we must make for our student’s protection.
It will be a long journey with your student, so you also need to take care of yourself. Supporting someone in crisis can easily cause something called “secondary trauma,” which will impact and ultimately drain you—so you need to have support too. Check in regularly with your pastor, a therapist or someone else who can provide that support as you process your interactions with the student.
The work you are doing is so important. It is being God’s light in the face of darkness. It is safety. It is hope. As you point to God’s goodness, I pray that you will know His strength in all you are doing.
This article originally appeared here.