The pandemic is taking a toll on mental health across the U.S. Experts say your kids may be most at-risk. Suicide hotlines are ringing off the hook; call volume rose 65-percent last year. Most callers were teens and senior citizens. Trips to the emergency room escalated almost immediately following lockdown orders. “Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 years increased approximately 24-percent and 31-percent, respectively,” the CDC reports. Dean Vander Mey leads Set Free Ministries, a biblical counseling ministry based in West Michigan. He says their caseload is rising, too. “We’re seeing a lot of increase with children having anxiety issues, depression issues; more and more moms and dads are calling. I had a couple in here yesterday with a 10-year-old, [the] day before that it was a 16-year-old,” Vander Mey says.
From a child’s perspective, change in routine is never easy – especially when the changes never end.
“A lot of the kids are very angry and anxious right now. They’re used to structure and, because of COVID-19, all of that structure and all of their socialization stopped abruptly. This whole dynamic of social distancing, covering up your face, not seeing each other – it’s very disruptive to how God created us as humans,” Vander Mey says.
“It has devastating effects. Our prayer is that our government agencies will understand the damage occurring because of the unintended consequences of their choices.” Set Free helps kids and their parents bring each problem to the foot of the cross. “You bring faith into the equation, and that changes everything. [We have seen] lots of success by pointing to the Scriptures and letting them know there’s a different way out, instead of just having anxiety,” Vander Mey says.
Fear vs. faith
Staff and volunteers use Bible storying with kids and young adults. “One of my favorite stories is when there was a huge storm on the Sea of Galilee, and all the apostles were freaking out because they thought their boat was going to sink. They were reacting emotionally with fear, and they were trying to save themselves,” Vander Mey describes. “Then, someone had an idea to wake Jesus up and talk to Him about it. Maybe He has a different solution. The One who could calm the storm just stood up and said, ‘Peace, be still,’ and the storm was over.” Vander Mey encourages families to remember this story when life’s storms arise. “We point people to Jesus, and we say He is the one that can calm storms, and He’s on our boat,” he says.