The “church kid” who fears she won’t be accepted

A conversation I had with a college student has been bothering me for the last couple of weeks. My interaction was indicative of the challenges churches will need to overcome if they are to truly become effective at welcoming and ministering with teens and young adults with mental health concerns. I have the patient’s permission to share their story – some non-essential details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

This is a kid who has struggled for years with ADHD and anxiety and most recently experienced an episode of depression. She reported some improvement in her depression after initiating treatment at the end of last school year and was checking in at my request while home for a long weekend from her Christian college in the Midwest.

I was asking her a series of questions to assess whether her depression was an issue for her this school year. She told me that she’d found a circle of friends and that she was getting out at least once a week. They’d go out to dinner or check out musician friends performing near her school. I asked her if she’d joined any organizations or connected with a small group or Bible study, either on campus or at the church she attends while at school. She told me a number of her friends were involved with the LGBTQ organization on campus. That wasn’t a fit for her because she’s straight. As for becoming more involved at church, here’s what she said…

“I’m afraid that the church people won’t accept someone with my mental health issues. My LGBTQ friends are accustomed to feeling like outsiders. They seem more willing to accept me when I’m struggling.”

This is a kid from a family who did pretty much everything Christian families are supposed to do to pass their faith down to the next generation. Her parents took her to church every week while she was growing up. She went on a mission trip. Her older sister was very involved with the campus ministry when she attended college in a different part of the country. She wasn’t very involved with her church’s high school ministry for a variety of reasons – her extracurricular activities and schoolwork took up a great deal of time, cliques were an issue in her youth group and she wasn’t sure how to deal with unwanted attention from a boy at church. I’m sure it bothers her parents that she’s not more involved with the ministries that operate on her campus.

I’ve written before about the importance of changing perceptions regarding the church’s receptiveness to persons with mental illness. One of the most striking findings from Lifeway’s study of Mental Illness and the Church was that a majority of adults who don’t regularly attend worship services believed that persons with mental illness wouldn’t be welcome at church. But 21% of weekly churchgoers disagreed with the statement that most churches would welcome them if they had mental health issues.

One kid’s experience isn’t necessarily indicative of a larger trend. But it’s still incredibly sad when a kid raised in the church who is working through some mental health issues avoids getting connected with Christian community in a new town because of fears she won’t be accepted.

We have a lot of work to do.
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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer daily to church leaders and families, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider a financial gift to help us cover our shortfall in 2018 and expand the work of our ministry in 2019 and beyond!

 

 

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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