Mental Health Reflections | UMC YoungPeople
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January 2023

Mental Health Reflections

By Jacey Pickens-Junes

Mental health has been a significant topic for many organizations in recent years; and unless you’ve been lost in the busyness of ministry, you will have noticed that mental health has grown as a concern and need among young people over the past decade. The conversations about mental health certainly increased during the period of COVID-19 isolation, along with the new ways of interacting with peers and academics. Let’s be clear: everyone has mental health needs, and we are all dynamically changing in our moods, feelings, and needs. Whether a person’s mental health is constructive, destructive, or somewhere in-between is something we need to work to understand.

In mid-December 2022, the story of a celebrity who had suicided (Yes, I made that a verb. Keep reading to see why.) began to make the rounds via traditional news and social media. Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who gained fame as a dancer on So You Think You Can Dance and as the bubbly DJ on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, took his own life. For an outside observer, tWitch’s life appeared to be a positive success story. It appeared that he had it all. He had a career that came with significant income, and that career involved doing things he loved. He had a wife and three kids who shared in social media accounts how he built on ideas of positivity and lifting others up through movement.

We don’t know what he was experiencing in his own wellness and sense of self. It may seem easy for people to blame tWitch for a selfish action and wonder why he would end his own life when it appeared that he had “everything.” The reality is that we simply don’t know what he was struggling with within himself. You may have noticed that I said he “suicided” earlier. Typically, we use language like someone “committing” suicide, almost as if suicide were a crime – as opposed to a heart-wrenching action done by someone in the midst of struggles and strife. Suicide can be talked about like the outcome of an illness, as we might share information about someone who passed away due to complications of cancer. Suicide can be the outcome of a mental illness or the result of a negative mental health pattern from which there seems to be no means of escape. When people talk about this news story, they should not look down on tWitch because of how his life ended any more than they would judge someone who died of cancer.

We don’t really know what struggles the young people in our ministries wrestle with as part of their mental health. Why? We can know only as much as we are invited to know by those young people and their families. We have to create cultures where support for mental health is woven into the fabric of ministry. We as leaders need to put ourselves in a position where struggling people might invite us to listen, help them make sense of difficulties, and refer them for greater support.

Poor mental health can drastically impact someone’s life or even bring it to an end. If there is a stigma about mental illness in the community where you serve, then mental health issues may be dealt with in silence. Be an advocate for change. Mental health is something we all must maintain, whether we are aware of it or not. Mental health issues affect all of us. Reports of suicide or self-harm can cause trauma and force us to explore our own feelings. God created us with minds, and God expects us to use those minds. The systems we engage with to raise our awareness of our mental health need to be maintained. We need to stay aware of mental health concerns and take care of ourselves and others, having referral plans as needed.

If you are ever feeling that your own mental health is suffering, please, please, please tell someone. Invite someone in. Shedding light on a situation is one of the best things you can do. Then you open yourself up to accepting help from those around you. If you are having a hard time, reach out to someone you trust. Admitting struggles and accepting help are not signs of weakness; rather, they show strength and courage on the journey to becoming the person God has created you to be.

Above all, you are deeply loved, all of you. Even when things are hard, and it feels like the storm is raging inside of you, God is there. You are not alone. Every time people speak their truth, the world becomes a better and brighter place for us all.

Be bold. Be you. Be loved.

Discussion Tips for Leaders:

  • Practice and teach active listening.
  • Be on the lookout for habit changes; for example, kids who usually are on time being late or social kids being withdrawn.
  • Start with easier topics before going deeper to build trust.
  • Create a covenant or rules of engagement anytime there will be a conversation around a more serious topic.
  • Be sure to break the stigma that mental health problems shouldn’t be talked about.
  • Allow students the space to share their personal experiences.