Many Youth Pastors Feel Unequipped to Confront Mental Illness In Adolescents

mental illness

Many mental-health disorders first surface during adolescence, and college and youth pastors are in a good position to offer help or steer youths where they can find it. But many of those ministers feel unprepared to recognize and deal with mental illness, a Baylor University study revealed.

The study of Texas ministers—“Adolescent Mental Health: The Role of Youth and College Pastors”—is published in the journal Mental Health, Religion & Culture.

Unlike many senior pastors, ministers who work with young people are expected to have more extensive contact with their congregants outside of church services, researchers said. Because youth groups are smaller than the congregations themselves, a greater chance exists for deep relationships between ministers and adolescents, through one-on-one counseling, Bible-study groups, mission trips and service opportunities, said researcher Matthew S. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.

William Hunter, a doctoral candidate of clinical psychology at Baylor, served as co-researcher on the study, which involved 94 youth and college pastors representing churches ranging in size from 45 to 8,000 members. Churches were located in Abilene, Austin, College Station, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, San Antonio, the Temple-Killeen area and Waco.

The survey showed:

• 50 percent said they had received training related to mental illness, but only 26 percent reported they felt qualified to work with young people dealing with significant mental health issues.

• 78.7 percent had worked with one to 10 adolescents a year whom they knew or thought had mental health issues.

• 76 percent had referred an adolescent congregant to a Christian counselor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but pastors who made referrals were most likely to do so to a Christian counselor.

Youth pastors ranked depression as the most prevalent mental health issue they have seen among youths, followed by pornography, grief/bereavement, anxiety, aggression/anger, sexual behavior, alcohol/drug abuse, ADHD, emotional abuse, eating disorders, stress from having a family member with a mental health issue, domestic or spousal abuse, juvenile delinquency, gender identity, sexual assault/abuse and physical abuse.

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SOURCE: The Baptist Standard
Terry Goodrich

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