Youth Mental Health: What Can We Do as Christian Leaders?

November 21, 2022 0 comments
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College of Health & Behavioral Sciences Special Report

Dr. Fernando Garzon, Associate Dean; Dr. Carletta Artis, Assistant Dean
Dr. Jessica Guilfoyle, Program Director & Assistant Professor
Dr. Shannon Kuschel, Core Faculty

The freeing words of Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope, may not be fully grasped by the hearts and minds of youth. 

Adolescence is a time for healthy exploration of identity and independence. However, even under the best circumstances, mental health during this stage of life can be challenging due to rapid changes in the brain and body, changing roles within the family dynamic, and perceived societal and peer pressures. 

In addition to these typical factors, emerging data suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has harshly affected the mental health of large numbers of children and youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prior to the pandemic, youth mental health was already a significant public health concern. 

Disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, like school closures, isolation, economic hardship, food insecurity, housing instability, reduced access to healthcare, illness, and even death, raised concerns about their effects on the already strained mental health of youth. 

Now, post-pandemic data is validating those concerns with reports of an increase in sadness, thoughts of suicide, or self-harm. 

Why is the COVID-19 pandemic so hard on the youth?  

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressor for us all. However, the underdeveloped minds of young people make them especially vulnerable. 

According to the American Psychological Association, the loss of identity, autonomy, safety, and even the dreams and expectations of adolescents has raised youth concerns about the future in ways unlike that experienced by previous generations. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a 41% increase in the demand for mental health services and pushed the therapy deficit to an all-time high. This increase makes it challenging for those in need of mental health services and therapy and is discouraging when youth reach out for help and cannot get it. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that by 2025, we will see an increase in the need for more than 10,000 full-time clinicians. Furthermore, the acute stress caused by these strains has led to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. 

Isaiah 40:29-31 reminds us: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

How do we overcome obstacles caused by the pandemic? 

The short answer: We overcome these obstacles with action.

Clearly, the concerning decline in our youth’s mental health over the last several years is complex and must be addressed quickly and comprehensively. In the 21st century, mental health issues have gained attention, especially among young people. Often, in crisis, many seek guidance from leaders within Christian communities before turning to general mental health specialists. Therefore, Christian community leaders must be prepared to answer that call.

Christian communities may support young people’s mental health by providing them with religious education in their churches. Establishing strong religious morals can aid in developing a healthy response to challenging circumstances. 

Giving teens the opportunity to connect helps cultivate a feeling of togetherness that can improve self-esteem and overall success. Furthermore, fortifying coping skills, especially in scholarly foundations, may reduce the effect of tensions, further develop hardship survival strategies, and support a less risky way of life.

Emotional well-being experts with experience dealing with dysfunctional behavior should be on-hand at these gatherings to provide immediate qualified support and practical solutions. These youths may even become empowered with the knowledge to helps others battling similar challenges.

Psychotherapy is also crucial for adolescents who are already dealing with mental illness and has been used for years to diagnose and treat mental diseases, including anxiety, mood disorders, traumatic disorders, depression, and others. When combined with Christian principles, psychotherapy may be enhanced to a new degree of impact. 

What does the integration of faith and psychotherapy look like together?

The integration of Christian faith in clinical practice can be conceptualized as three legs of a tripod that include psychology, theology and spirituality as important elements in providing faith-based therapeutic services. Intentional and prayerful integration is the critical factor. It should be conducted in dependence on the Holy Spirit, in a professional, competent, ethically responsible, and clinically sensitive way, with clear, informed consent from the client. 

The Christian therapist reflects biblical values and convictions without imposing them on the client. Typical tools include the use of prayer and scripture in concert with psychological theory and approaches within the context of the therapeutic environment. 

Regent University specifically trains developing clinicians in the skilled use of Christian integration as a therapeutic approach, along with the current best practice standards of the use of psychological methodologies, according to the American Psychological Association. Here are a few Regent University alumni leaders who are advancing the mental health industry with methods that include the integration of psychology and faith:

Dr. Ana Maria Ojeda
Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology ’08

Dr. Ojeda works in Miami with the Department of Psychiatry at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and as an assistant professor for Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Board-certified in clinical psychology; she used her innovative medical and community outreach methods to launch UrbanPromise Miami, which later merged with Hope for Miami to provide at-risk youth a safe haven and invaluable family resources.

Dr. Nicholas Westers
Psy.D. in Clinical PsychologY ’10

Dr. Westers provides service, education and training through UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. He specializes in treating child and adolescent non-suicidal self-injury, depression, suicidal behaviors, and anxiety.

Dr. Elissa Jarvis
Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology ’18

Dr. Jarvis provides outpatient therapy and supervision through Rawles Psychological Services, specializing in treating depression, anxiety, and trauma-related symptoms in adults. She primarily utilizes Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other individualized, evidence-based approaches to best meet her client’s needs.

Regent University Resources
Regent University’s Student Services, which houses Counseling Services and Disability Services, serves students, including adolescents and young adults, many of whom are transitioning from home for the first time. Free counseling is currently available to any students within reach of Regent’s campus in Virginia Beach.

24/7 mental health support is now available to students nationwide through a partnership with Timely MD/TimelyCare Telehealth for Students. With an internet connection, students will have the power to access care at no cost that’s safe, qualified, and there when they need it.

Ultimately, a collaboration effort between faith-based leaders and community partners, using Christian principles and education with preventative and therapeutic approaches when interacting with teens, can help improve the current mental health condition. 

As parents, guardians and mentors, we want to know that “our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace (Psalm 144:12).” Remember, in Christ—there is always hope. Be sure to lean on these instructions and that of Hebrews 11:6 and keep the faith.

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