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Want to reach Gen Z? Start with mental health.

skate park
Unsplash/John Verhoestra

Gen Z is a demographic that everyone seems to understand. Or at least we think we do. We understand that they love their smartphones, are passionate about social justice, and want their student loans forgiven.

What fewer people know is that they are also extremely lonely and depressed. A new study of student mental health from the Springtide Research Institute, of which Josh is the executive director, found that 42% of middle/high school and college students report feeling depressed “most” or “all of the time. “over the past two weeks. , while 49% report having consulted a mental health professional in the last three months.

To connect with Gen Z these days, you have to be prepared to engage them on the subject of mental health. The ability to relate to Gen Z on mental health issues could make the difference when it comes to attracting them to the faith or the Christian community.

Healing and Belonging

I (Jeff) am the Executive Director of Youth for Christ in Northern Colorado, where we see nearly every young person coming out of the pandemic with some level of trauma or mental fatigue. Fortunately, our ministry is prepared to deal with youth mental health issues in a way that promotes faith and belonging.

First, we meet young people where they are. This is usually outside of religious institutions (or any institution, for that matter). We meet them at skate parks, ski hills, at our youth center and at our bike shop. In recent years, we have noticed that young people value relationships rather than organizations. In the past, as a nation, we needed trust and commitment to an organization to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, over the years, many of these institutions have used this trust in harmful ways that have deteriorated trust and reliance on them. Thus, young people now have a significant distrust of an organization and a much higher value in personal experiences. This can only be achieved through relationships.

Therefore, we have an approach to help young people heal and fit in so they can hear and believe. We focus on the fact that children are valuable for who they are, not for what they achieve. It ended up bringing us a lot of kids who somehow felt rejected by society because we were one of the only places where they felt valued. It was also accompanied by emotional trauma in many cases. We have therefore discovered an approach to address mental health through relational intervention based on trust as well as the use of round tables with motivational interviewing techniques to professionally address the very serious situations that our children. We call this ministry of the heart to harvest ministry where we focus on healing and belonging to the heart of each child so that they are powerfully ready to hear and believe.

It is very rare that a young person does not want us to be involved in their life, because they simply feel more valuable when we can encourage them. It opens the door to talking about the gospel where kids want to hear about it before we start explaining it – we let them determine when that happens.

We have a kid who came to one of our skate competitions in a city park and was able to talk to some of our employees. He quickly discovered that this place made him feel like family and he wanted to be with that family more. He started attending one of our first programs for our mental health activities where he started learning more ways for him to heal from trauma that was in his life.

As he began to heal, he also began to ask us why this healing worked, which allowed us to tell him how Jesus heals our hearts and cares for us. Since he had already experienced what we were saying, he had much less opposition to our explanation. He was already living his own story and he was just asking us to explain why it worked.

What I found interesting was the incredible similarity between the definition of sanity and the fruit of the Spirit. What I believe is happening is that our world is doing all it can to experience the fruit of the spirit, but they want to avoid doing it through Jesus. We define this successful pursuit as sanity.

What our program does is bring the best mental health experience a child can have, which is really just a tasting of the recipe that yields the fruit of the spirit. Once a child tastes it and sees it’s good, it gives us the most viable entry point we’ve ever found to introduce a life of walking with Jesus as a way to not only taste the fruit, but for their friends and family to get a taste of what God has so good to offer.

Train yourself

Any leader can take training courses on the aforementioned techniques, including motivational interviewing, roundtable discussions, and relational trust-based intervention. Jeff’s ministry at Youth for Christ in northern Colorado combines these three trainings into one program with resources to offer 12 classes for young people called Rebalance. Whatever approach you take, it is very important that you stay in touch with a professional therapist for referrals when you find yourself in these serious situations with young people.

Finally, one of the key lessons from the Springtide mental health study is that young people are attracted to mental health-supportive communities, as opposed to those that rely solely on case intervention tools. of crisis. To develop a culture that welcomes conversations about mental health, consider integrating the topic into your teaching series, leadership meetings, and interactions with students.

Faith and mental health have an important relationship, and Christian leaders have an opportunity to introduce the healing power of Christian faith and community to Gen Z.

Josh Packard (@drjoshpackard) is executive director of the Springtide Research Institute. Jeff Neel is executive director of North Colorado Youth for Christ (@ncyfc).