Often youth leaders are the first to see and respond when young people are in crisis.
We know you want to help. And we know getting answers on how best to support them can be a challenge.
After working in youth ministry for over 15 years and encountering an increasing number of teens wrestling with depression and suicide, Will Hutcherson set out on a mission to help fight this raging battle threatening a generation of youth. His journey led him to meet Dr. Chinwé Williams—a therapist with over 20 years’ experience. We asked Will and Chinwé, keynote speakers at FYI’s upcoming Youth Ministry & Mental Health online training event, to share from their practical and insightful book, Seen.
Tyler was one of my (Will’s) favorite students. I know neither parents nor youth pastors are supposed to have favorites, but I loved spending time with Tyler. He was a great kid—funny, respectful, and smart.
As a seventeen-year-old, Tyler had a bright future. He was one of our top students in the leadership development program I was helping run at the time. He was committed and hard working. I would often see him pitching in to help others and was eager to offer a hand.
Looking beneath the surface
Though Tyler seemed to have it together on the outside, he was actually suffering from depression. He shared with me the struggle he had to get out of bed some mornings. Despite loving the program and the other students, Tyler had moments of self-doubt. In his worst moments, he even had thoughts of ending his life.
How does a kid who seemingly has it all together get so down? I mean, he has so much going for him, right?
He comes from a good family. Check.
He wasn’t bullied as a kid. Check.
He didn’t have any significant trauma from abuse. Check.
So, what was happening?
This scenario was becoming all-too-familiar. More and more teens like Tyler started popping up, and I knew there seemed to be more than a few instances of despair and depression. Students started coming into my office looking for guidance as they shared, “I think I have depression.” Over and over again, I had parents or students approach me about the concerns they had for others.
“They just don’t seem like themselves anymore.”
“They’re always down.”
“She is saying some things that are really concerning me.”
It seemed more and more students were feeling paralyzed and anxious when facing resistance or obstacles in life. Students were losing their resilience and their motivation. They seemed to have a pessimistic outlook about the future and were disengaging emotionally. I wanted to know more about what was causing this increasing disengagement or detachment in recent years, so I started asking questions and listening.
Today’s teenagers are hurting
What I found didn’t just concern me, but rather it alarmed me. Teenagers were facing high levels of despair. Some were self-diagnosing as being very depressed. Others were sharing about panic attacks or anxiety. At worst, they described their attempts to kill themselves or their future plan to kill themselves. Surprisingly, it turns out, it isn’t just my own community experiencing these trends. Despair has become a serious problem nationwide.
Here are some pretty startling statistics:
- Suicide rates have increased by 76 percent for ages 15 to 19.
- Suicide rates have nearly doubled in teen girls.
- The highest rate of increase in suicide among all age groups is in kids between 10 and 14 years old.
- Depressive symptoms are up 21 percent in boys, and up 50 percent in girls. 1
- Suicide attempts among black teens increased by 73 percent between 1991 and 2017, and there is an elevated risk of suicide among African-American boys ages 5 to 11.2
- In early 2020, an estimated 1 out of 4 young adults contemplated suicide. 3
- In March 2020, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw an increase of 891 percent in call volume. 4
Many feel powerless against the depression and despair kids are facing today. All of us are scared, not wanting the story we’ve heard so many times to become the story of our own kids. So, we do our best with what we know.*
In recent years, the US Surgeon General has declared youth mental health a national crisis. Based on CDC statistics, one New York Times article explains, “Three decades ago, the gravest public health threats to teenagers in the United States came from binge drinking, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy and smoking. These have since fallen sharply, replaced by a new public health concern: soaring rates of mental health disorders.”
Youth leaders, this major change presents both a challenge and invitation for our ministries. Let’s equip ourselves with language and tools to respond to young people in our care.
Let’s make mental health a part of conversations about discipleship and faith.
And let’s make our ministries mental-health-friendly spaces where teenagers experience rest and restoration, and gain tools for hope-filled living.
Tweet this: Let’s equip ourselves with language and tools to respond to young people in our care. Let’s make mental health a part of conversations about discipleship and faith.
Get expert insights on leading a mental-health-friendly youth ministry
Join our online Youth Ministry & Mental Health training event, where you’ll hear from experts and gain valuable insights so that you can feel confident as you care for your hurting teens and create a mental-health-friendly youth ministry.
This 4-hour online event features keynote training with Dr. Chinwé Williams and Will Hutcherson, authors of Seen, and Dr. Kara Powell, author of 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. You’ll also get to attend breakout sessions with ministry experts and choose from practical topics such as Trauma-Informed Discipleship, Simple Practices for a Mental-Health-Friendly Youth Group, Partnering With Parents for the Long Term, and Resilience for Stressed-Out Youth Leaders.
* Excerpted with permission from Will Hutcherson and Chinwé Williams, Phd, Seen: Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teenagers and the Power of Connection released by Parent Cue July 2021.
1 Curtin, Sally C. M.A. and Heron, Melonie, Ph.D., “Death Rates Due to Suicide and Homicide Among Persons Aged 10-24.”
2 Lindsey, Michael A., et al. 2019. “Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017.” AAAP Publications, American Academy of Pediatrics, November 2019, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/5/e20191187
3 Prior, Ryan, “1 in 4 Young People Are Reporting Suicidal Thoughts. Here’s How to Help,” CNN, August 15, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/14/health/young-people-suicidal-ideation-wellness/index.html
4 Jackson, Amanda, “A Crisis Mental-health Hotline Has Seen an 891% Spike in Calls,” CNN, APril 10, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/10/us/disaster-hotline-call-increase-wellness-trnd/index.html
More From Us
Sign up for our email today and choose from one of our popular free downloads sent straight to your inbox. Plus, you’ll be the first to know about our sales, offers, and new releases.