The Rising Mental Health Crisis Among Youth in the Church

The number of American youth ages 12-20 who report struggling with mental health is steadily on the rise. According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of individuals in this age bracket who reported a major depressive episode (MDE) within the last year increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37% increase.

The problem isn’t just the rising number of individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. The parallel issue is that many of these youth are not able to access services necessary to help them cope. Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Mental Health studied the results of the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a survey of 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18,  and found that while 20% of youth struggle with mental disorders, only 36% of those receive services.  Even more sobering, only 50% of those with a severe mental disorder diagnosis receive professional help. In 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell promised $99 million in grant money to fund programs and resources for youth struggling with mental health to try meet the needs of these individuals and their families.

Mental health problems aren’t limited to a particular demographic. Todd Adamowich, Clinical Social Worker and Therapist says, “There’s a great deal of research which suggests there are social determinants to physical and mental health. Race, culture, age, socioeconomic status and others contribute.  There is no unique picture of who mental health issues can affect.” That includes individuals who identify as Christians.

For a long time, mental illness wasn’t discussed within the church. There was a distinct stigma attached and individuals struggling with depression, anxiety or grief were often simply told to have faith and trust God. There was a mindset that mental illness could simply be “prayed away” and individuals who couldn’t overcome were considered weak or of little faith. This shame-based mindset kept untold numbers of individuals from reaching out and getting the help they need.

Thankfully, there has been a shift away from that mentality. As it has in so many other areas, Saddleback Church has led the way in pioneering awareness within the church. Senior Pastor Rick Warren has been very open about his own battle with depression and discussed his son Matthew’s suicide in a 2013 CNN interview.

Warren’s first-hand experiences led to the Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, a conference that has given hope to numerous families through the resources it provides, including the Hope for Mental Health Starter Kit for churches. As a result, they have seen hope and healing in the lives of many, including men like David Mandani.

Mandani’s story is not unique. The key is to move away from a shame-based approach and instead provide tools and sound clinical counseling to those who struggle.

Use these resources to find a licensed clinical counselor in your area.


Music: “Silent Screams” by Eowyn – check out her music at or download on iTunes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s