I recently heard it said that the typical teenager experiences more anxiety than the average adolescent psychiatric patient in the 1950s. Surprised, I looked up the statistic—only to find that the facts are even more discouraging than that. That study was actually conducted back in the 1980s, and since then, by nearly all indicators, teens’ anxiety and overall mental health has gotten even worse.
As youth leaders, we’re on the front lines of this battle—and it’s easy to get discouraged. Mental health struggles rarely have simple solutions, and as teens get overwhelmed, we can as well. Here are four ways to remain a steady beacon that kids can count on when their world seems out of control.
1. Mind your mind.
“You keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3
As we pour ourselves out to help students, we can sometimes neglect our own mental health needs. To avoid this, schedule regular check-ins with the Lord and, if possible with a mentor or trusted peer, to assess the state of your own heart and mind. If you’re struggling, find a counselor to help you work through deeper issues. It’s hard to help teens when we’re not healthy ourselves.
2. Assess accurately.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
As you interact with students, ask the Lord for discernment about the seriousness and the source of their struggles and for wisdom about how to help them. If they talk about harming themselves or others, talk with local authorities, senior leadership, and parents (before advising a teen) to determine proper steps. With any situation, be on guard against going to either of two extremes: to either dismiss their concerns as trivial and overblown or to get caught up in their pain and be dragged down as you try to lift them up. Avoid stepping into roles that licensed counselors or medical doctors should fill, opting instead to point them toward professional help as needed.
3. Serve up Scripture.
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Psalm 19:8
While we never want to treat Bible verses as a band-aid to slap on students’ problems, the truth is that God’s Word has much to offer teens struggling with anxiety, especially when we present it with sensitivity and gentleness. Use passages such as Romans 8 and Ephesians 2 to teach them about Christ’s unconditional grace and love. Encourage them to memorize and meditate on Scriptures that remind them to trust God and that address anxiety directly—such as John 16:33, Philippians 4:6-8, 1 Peter 5:7, and Deuteronomy 31:8. As you do, it can be helpful to emphasize that they can’t fix everything by simply reciting a few verses—sometimes physiological and psychological interventions are warranted as well. Also remind them that just because they continue to struggle doesn’t mean they’re a bad Christian—taking our thoughts captive for Christ is an ongoing, daily process that we can grow in but we never grow out of.
4. Emphasize Emmanuel.
“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:22-23
We tend to think of this as a Christmas truth, but the reality is that for believers, God is always with us, through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Focus on His presence as you interact with students, allowing Him to show you what they need in any given moment—whether it’s an encouraging word, a listening ear, a number for a doctor or counseling center, a connection with another student, or just a sense of God loving them through you. Also, remind students that when they trust in Christ, He’s always with them as well, and He will never leave nor forsake them. (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5b)