two young men sitting on car

Who Are Gen Z Talking to About Mental Health and Faith?

My interest in psychology began with a quiet high schooler’s reflection: “When I listen to my friends talk, they find it helpful. So, how do I become a better listener and a more helpful friend?” Over the past ten years, this thought has directed my studies in psychology, counselling, and social health. Those years have increased my knowledge, wisdom, skills, and experience—but often I still feel ill-equipped when it comes to the practicalities of faith and mental health. 

In 2017, while I was working as an Assistant Youth Minister in Sydney, Australia, I was invited by a friend to speak at his youth group on this topic. Feeling I wasn’t the most qualified person for the gig, I was tempted to decline the offer, but despite my own feelings of inadequacy, I agreed.

After the talk, I listened to two youth leaders share their concerns for a young girl in their group. These young leaders were so willing to help, but because of their fear that they would say or do the wrong thing, they had said and done nothing. Perhaps you have felt these fears, too. I certainly have. In fact, those fears had almost stopped me from speaking at that church in the first place. It’s important to notice that fear can stop us from having important conversations.

For young people, the mental health discussion is happening openly on social media, TV shows, and at school. But is the discussion happening in your church or youth group? Gen Z (born between 1999-2015) is more likely than older generations to say the problem of evil and suffering is a faith deal-breaker. 1 Discipling young people to have a robust faith must include talking about suffering. We must talk about mental health. Irene Cho, program manager at Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), says, “FYI’s research reveals that providing spaces [for young people] to ask difficult questions, express doubts, learn how to integrate their world and engage with the internal struggle is absolutely crucial to cultivating faith. Doubt is not what kills faith; silence is.” 2

The desire for these difficult conversations is often present, but they can fail to materialize when we lack good resources and are at a loss to know where to start. At Sanctuary, we recognize that supporting Gen Z requires the creation of unique resources that reflect their emotional and psychological development, the realities of social media, and other educational and cultural factors, and so we are conducting research. We will be asking young people, youth leaders, youth pastors, and parents to share the things that they would find helpful in a resource designed to support the mental health of young people in faith communities. 

Would you help us? We have the commitment and the passion to do this work, but we believe the best resource will be the result of a collaborative effort built upon the experiences, insights, and wisdom of those who live and work with young people, and (most importantly) young people themselves. There are a few ways you can help:

  1. Youth Advisory Council. If you know of or are a young person who is passionate about mental health, this month we are putting together a Youth Advisory Council which will serve as a key component of our study. The council’s input will directly impact the resources Sanctuary develops for youth leaders in church communities around the world. More information can be found here.
  2. Participate in our survey. If you are a young person, parent, youth leader, or pastor, we would love to hear from you! Our survey will undergo revision and testing by our Youth Advisory Council before being released to the public in June. There will also be optional focus groups where you can dive deeper into the major themes emerging from the survey data.
  3. Pass this information along. Perhaps the above options aren’t relevant to you, but I’m sure you know someone who would have valuable things to share. Could you pass this information on to them and let them know we’d value their input? 

If you are interested in participating or would like to find out more about our study, please fill in this Expression of Interest form or contact Amy Deutscher directly at amy@sanctuarymentalhealth.org.

With your help, we will create effective and valuable mental health resources for youth groups and help alleviate the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Our hope is that as young people are supported, they will know that God and their faith communities care about them and their difficult questions, and they will learn how to trust God in the midst of life’s pains and uncertainties.

We’re also aware that faith communities are in need of resources now. Below are some that we’ve curated for you. They are a mix aimed at youth, youth leaders/pastors, and parents to help support the mental health of young people. Please note, not all resources are free or faith-based.

RESOURCES

Click on each header to open a drop-down menu of resources in that category.

Smiling Mind (FREE)

A secular meditation app developed by psychologists and educators. Hundreds of free tailored programs for ages 3+. Developed by one of Australia’s leading preventative mental health not-for-profits, with a focus on helping young people and those around them develop the skills they need to thrive in life.

Be Safe (Ontario, Canada; FREE)

An app that aims to help young adults make a decision about seeking help in a crisis. Helps youth find help when they need it, and supports them through the process of reaching out when it feels overwhelming.

Raising Teens with Collett Smart

Raising Teens will give you bite-sized episodes of info you need to tackle the changes that come when your child turns into a teenager! Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker, and internationally published author who loves working with teenagers and loves Jesus. Her podcast and website are a space where parents of teens with mental health challenges can find guidance, support, and hope. 

Faith in an Anxious World Parenting Podcast – Fuller Youth Institute

This mini series features interviews and advice from mental health experts which will equip families and leaders to make anxiety and depression part of the discipleship conversation. These episodes coincide with curriculum themes, so you can send them to parents each week and equip families for better conversations at home. 

Youthscape Podcast

A weekly podcast of youth leader inspiration. Hosts Rachel Gardner and Martin Saunders talk faith, Church, and culture with brilliant guests from the world of youth work. Covers a range of topics, including the emerging mental health crisis, and mental health and pastoral care.

 

Youth Group Mental Health Session – Headstrong (FREE)

A free, ready-to-use 60-90 minute youth group session tackling mental wellbeing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Designed for either online or in-person, this session gives you a chance to talk openly and honestly with your youth group about mental health and anxiety.

Faith in an Anxious World – Fuller Youth Institute ($49.99 USD)

A 4-week high school curriculum series that will empower you with language and tools to respond to young people in your care, linking anxiety and depression with conversations about discipleship and faithful living.

Redefine Grace Workbook – Grace Alliance ($14.99 USD)

A 10-week Bible study for high school and college-aged students to use individually, one-on-one, or in a small group experience. Includes biblical stories, neuroscience, and practical tools. Free sample available.

 

Supporting Young People When They’re Suffering – Fuller Youth Institute. 

Some really helpful tips to guide you in your conversations with young people. 

Webinar: Caring for Young People’s Mental Health – Cinnamon Network, 2021. 

A discussion of the impact of lockdown on young people’s mental health, and what practical support churches can provide.

FraserHealth (Canada)

Mental health self-care tools and resources for children, youth, and parents based in British Columbia, Canada. 

Headspace (AU)

Information and support for young people and their friends and family, addressing the many issues facing young people today. You can find a local headspace centre, receive personalised work and study support, or receive online or over-the-phone support and advice (group chats, online communities, 1:1 direct support with professionals).

Bite Back – Black Dog Institute 

A free, self-guided online wellbeing and resilience program for young people aged 13-16 years old (though appropriate for 12-18 years old). It uses a combination of fun, interactive activities, quizzes, animations, and information. (Offers a downloadable version that can be printed for those with limited internet access).

YoungMinds (UK)

The YoungMinds website is designed primarily for young people and offers loads of articles, blog posts, and information to equip young people to look after their mental health.

 

[1] Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 2018. 

[2] Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 2018.

Cover photo by Kylo on Unsplash

Amy has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters of Social Health and Counselling. While working as a youth minister in Sydney, she developed training for youth groups and the broader church around how to understand mental health theologically and how to practically support one another. In 2019, she came to Vancouver to upgrade her Graduate Diploma of Divinity to a Masters of Divinity at Regent College.