The causes of anxiety ranges from family concerns, to worries about Brexit and the unrest in the Middle East. These rising figures are, in part, because as a society we are getting better at recognising the signs of mental health conditions, but also because we are living in anxious times.
The climate of anxiety in the UK surrounding Brexit and terrorism is reaching our young people because it’s inescapable. As a young person, the only way I heard about news was through Newsround. In 2016, news breaks over social media, often leading to mass panic before facts become clear. As parents and youth workers we can’t shield our young people from the world in the way that we might have been able to in the past or the way we might want to, and so we need to be up front with them - talk to them about the things they hear, teach them to listen critically and develop an understanding of how the media works, while encouraging them to ask questions about the things they hear and see.
As youth workers we also need to be proactive in how we talk about emotions and develop our understanding of mental health conditions through books or training, encouraging healthy ways to manage difficult feelings such as anger and anxiety before they become a problem, rather than just reacting to crises. Youth workers have a vital role in these conversations - the whole spectrum of emotions are seen in the Bible and we can draw on the scriptures to inform our work. Consider studying the Psalms, looking at how emotions are written about or using Mental Health Awareness Week or World Mental Health Day to have a particular focus. We must move beyond the superficial use of verses, exclamations such as: “Do not worry about anything,” plucked from Philippians 4. While this can be a powerful call to prayer, we have to ensure that we don’t stop there. Telling someone to stop being anxious can just add guilt to anxiety, but allowing our young people to delve into the text and glimpse the God who experienced his own anguish and anxiety through Jesus sends a message that God can be trusted with our emotions and our whole lives.