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How You Can Help Teens With Mental Issues

This is the fourth post in a series on topics from the Youth Work Summit 2012. “We all have a mental health issue, because we all want to stay mentally healthy,” wise words from Wil van der Hart at the Youth Work Summit. He broached an important subject: mental health amongst young people. The statistics aren’t encouraging:

  • There has been a 70% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression among British 15 year-olds (and these figures differ greatly from the American ones) (Source: YWS talk Will van der Hart)
  • An estimated one million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder each year. There has been a significant rise in eating disorders during recent years, and though they can occur in any age and any sex, as many as one woman in every twenty will suffer from some form of eating distress in their life with the majority aged between 14 and 25 years-old(UK figures, source)
  • Around one in every 200 children under the age of 12 and two to three in every 100 teenagers suffer from depression. (UK figures, source)
  • Approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder (US figures, source)
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults (US figures, source)
  • 12% of 13-17 year-olds reported having thought about suicide, while 4.2% had actually made a suicide attempt. Females had higher rates of suicide ideation than males. (Australian figures, source)
  • Young people are more likely to experience a mental illness, and prevalence of mental disorders declines with age. In 2007, 26% of 16-24 year-olds had experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months, while only 5.9% of 75 year-olds and over had experienced a mental disorder during that time. (Australian figures, source)

In short: mental health issues are a big problem amongst teens and adolescents. So, what can you do to care for those young people that struggle with mental health problems?

1. Read up on mental health issues

First of all, you have to know what you’re talking about. You don’t need to become an expert on every mental health issue known to man, but you do need to read up on key issues and illnesses. Teen depression, anxiety disorders, borderline, manic depression, eating disorders, self harm, obsessive compulsive disorders, these are just a few important mental health issues amongst teens you need to know about. What are the symptoms, the root causes, and what can you do to support someone who has this illness?

2. Take signals seriously

The biggest mistake you can make is to make light of mental health issues amongst your young people. Sure, teens are generally moody and some depression and anxiety is normal. But you still need to take every signal seriously, because it can be a small signal of a much bigger problem. You don’t know what’s going on, and you may be that person they trust enough to show a little bit of what’s happening inside of them. So take that responsibility seriously and accept every signal you get as something important enough to talk about.

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rachelblom@churchleaders.com'
Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com