Over 16 years of preparing and leading summer staff for the pressure cooker environment of American summer camps has revealed to me a few anecdotal observations of the mental and emotional make-up of youth and young adults. My “first summer” in the late 90’s with this aforementioned age group had the initial welcoming introductions, pleasant greetings and greeting of others with the figurative high outer wall of nicety and tactfulness. This was contrasted with a low inner wall that once one made it past the high outer wall the candor and honesty flowed. This high outer wall of mental and emotional strength included a ‘I have it all together…’ to reveal a low inner wall of ‘I don’t really have it altogether’ revelation and here’s who I really am.
Conversely recently I have witnessed a flipping of this. Where the outer wall in now VERY LOW. “Hi my name is …. and I have depression or bipolar or….”. Boom straight out there, no warning, no concern or care for who hears it, who doesn’t want to hear it, you are gonna hear it whether you like it or not. And forget the inner wall, there’s no need for it anymore.
What has changed? Why has this generation developed an outrageous contempt for sensitivity or tact to cut straight to the “new definition” of who they are. Something previous generations would never had disclosed. Now almost to the point of wearing it as a badge of honor.
I would argue and suggest that we in the church are partially responsible for this new honesty. But not in a something to be celebrated kind of way. These are church youth & young adults who were raised in the church, still attend church, have articulated a statement of faith, prayed, participated (even lead) bible studies, sung in church and more but yet were boldly disclosing some needs that the church was not responding too. Forget what those who are unchurched or not of faith were disclosing. All to say “I am drowning in my mental health and don’t know where to turn”. Or perhaps put another way. The new low outer wall of introductions is a desperate cry for help.
The point is that issues of mental health and suicide are all around, it’s almost like the new sexy term to refer to oneself with… almost like saying you only eat gluten free or organic. Youth and young adults in and outside the church are disclosing boldly and unashamedly to whomever will hear the state of their mental health. Not because they are trying to one up the next person or extract pity, but because they are hurting, in pain and are losing hope and meaningful avenues for help. If we cannot provide for those within the church, for our own youth, we can’t even begin to imagine where to start for unchurched youth. What will we do? How much more shockingly normalized honesty do we need to hear?