Let’s Talk About Mental Health – Survey finds Young people want Church to be more proactive
This article first appeared in the April 2021 issue of the Church Review. Details of how to subscribe to the diocesan magazine are at the bottom of this page.
Young people and young adults would like to see their church communities being more proactive in the area of mental health. That’s according to the results of a survey carried out by Dublin & Glendalough’s Youth Ministry Coordinator, Susie Keegan in collaboration with counsellor and psychotherapist, Tom Tate of WhyMind.
Susie and Tom have been exploring the crossover between faith and mental health for some time. The survey (which is still live and open for young people and young adults to take part in https://www.dgyouthcouncil.net/mental-health-survey-information) was born from the desire to give young people of faith the opportunity to have their thoughts on mental health issues heard.
“The hope is to provide a space to help young people express their honest thoughts to help inform how our communities can seek to better support their needs,” Susie explains. “The survey is not aimed at making parishes or clergy feel bad but the aim is to start a conversation. It is also not just up to clergy to take this on. The church includes everyone and it is important to know that we all need to help out. We have to know when to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m here’. It’s also important to know that we are not looking for everyone to be counsellors but rather to be aware of when to signpost a person to a counsellor or to other supports in the community.”
The survey has been sent to Diocesan Youth Officers and youth workers in each diocese as well as to youth workers in other denominations. It is completely anonymous and the questions have been formulated in consultation with the Church’s Child Protection Officer to ensure they adhere to child protection guidelines. So far 62 young people and young adults have taken part and they are looking forward to more contributions.
A total of 67% of respondents said they had struggled with their mental health – 81% of the female respondents and 50% of the males. This data is in line with similar studies which suggest that females are more open to saying that they struggle with their mental health.
The survey asked who young people turn to first when they are struggling with their mental health. The top three results were friends, parents and counsellors. “Peers are having conversations and that is wonderful but we need to ensure that supports are in place for them to be able to talk and process with other people,” Susie comments. “I was really encouraged to see that parents were ranked quite high. The tide is turning and I think that because there are many more conversations happening around the topic of mental health, it is perhaps helping parents to begin to help their children. We have to remember that it has only been in recent times that mental health has come to the forefront of the conversation. For generations, many have been shamed and even punished for struggling with their mental health.”
A total of 79% of respondents felt that faith had an impact on their mental health. Meanwhile, 67% felt that the Bible was relevant when it came to mental health. 34% said they would go to their church community for advice or direction concerning their mental health and 32% said they could be open about their mental health in church settings.
Within the church setting, respondents were most likely to go to a youth worker, volunteer leader or young adults leader with their struggles. However, Susie warns that while this can be viewed as flattering, she has a few questions in response. “First of all, it’s really encouraging to see that youth leaders and volunteer leaders have created a space that young people can come to them with any mental health struggles they may be going through. But are we equipped enough in dealing with these issues? On the other side of that, I ask: Do youth/volunteer/young adult leaders have space where they can process how they are doing?” she asks.
When it comes to practical support and awareness raising of issues relating to mental health, young people thought their church communities could do better. They suggest that churches could provide mental health training/first aid, do more to raise awareness and have literature and/or a list of counsellors available.
“Young people and young adults are not asking for much,” Susie says. “They are asking for more general awareness on the topic of mental health, training and literature to be in the Churches/websites. It really isn’t that much to ask.”
You can find out more about the survey on the DGYC website at www.dgyouthcouncil.net/ If anybody or groups of people would like a more comprehensive talk through the survey or a copy of the findings, they can get in touch with Susie at 087–9444557 or email: email@example.com