LOVE LIFE: Self-Care For The Care Giver - Staying Healthy for the Long Term

Posted on by YFC Seattle

By Warren Mainard and Mark Haug

In September of 2019, Jarrid Wilson, a young adult pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, a megachurch in California, and the founder of a mental health advocacy group, posted his final message to Twitter.  “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.” That night, Wilson, 30, killed himself.

As Wilson’s story, and the stories of many other care givers who have battled (and lost) against depression and suicide demonstrate, knowing good theology and understanding mental health issues does not make one immune or invincible to experiencing their own personal hell.  Every person who takes on the role of caring for young people, particularly those experiencing trauma, depression and suicidal ideations should take great care to receive great care for their own well-being.  In our previous blog, we encouraged every care giver to be mindful, be intentional and be Gospel-focused in approaching their own spiritual and mental health.  In this blog, we will dive deeper into some practical and meaningful steps that caregivers can take in order to stay healthy for the long haul.

5 Practical Steps to Long-Term Care-Giving Health

  1. Know Yourself:  Every care giver enters into ministry to students with their own personal history, areas of weakness and woundedness.  Many youth leaders feel called into student ministry because they have been through traumatic experiences of their own and now long to help young students like them.  While wounded healers can have a very powerful ministry, they may also be very vulnerable to suffering adversely from issues like compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization.  Be real with your own risk factors. It is important to know yourself and your limits when caring for students.  Don’t go it alone and give yourself permission to refer difficult cases to another experienced counselor.  If you haven’t already done so, take a Self-Care Assessment test (perhaps 2-3 times per year) to make sure that you are keeping a close watch on your own personal dashboard of health.
  2. Listen to Your Own Counsel:  Remind yourself of the truths that you share with your students.  Take time to invest in the “Mental Health Triumvirate” of exercise, sleep and nutrition.  Write in a journal and express your thoughts, struggles, hopes and dreams. Get engaged and meet regularly with an authentic support community.  Put away the phone and the distractions and devote yourself to spiritual practices of solitude, confession, fasting and prayer. 
  3. Address Your Own Thinking Errors:  Parents and Youth Leaders can just as easily get caught in the spin cycle of thinking errors as their students.  Whether it is All-or-Nothing thoughts like, “things will never improve” or “I never get time to rest” or Mind Reading thoughts like, “these students really don’t like me”; thinking errors can derail your own mental health as quickly as a student’s.  Review the blog on Addressing Thinking Errors and evaluate yourself.  It may be helpful to even review the list of thinking errors with a spouse or loved one and ask them if they see any of those thinking errors in your talk or attitude.  Do not be defensive in this experience, but use it as an opportunity to grow and model for your students how to receive counsel.
  4. Stay in Your Lane:  Many of our students have experience deep and complex trauma that is beyond our pay grade, training and expertise.  It is critical that you recognize when you should refer a student to a paid professional.  Keep a list of potential counselors on hand and be confident in referring students.  This actually demonstrates a great level of care and compassion to the student and is in no way a failure on your part.  If you are a youth worker, it would be wise to be proactive to spend some time with different counselors and therapists in your area.  Meet them for coffee and seek to gain understanding of their approach to counseling, medication and long term health.  As you meet with these counselors, begin to take notes on what kind of student care situation may be best for each counselor you meet.  This will give you greater confidence in sharing your referrals with students in the future.
  5. Know When it is Time for a Personal Reset:  Ministry to students is relentless.  There is always another student, another issue another problem to be solved.  Even the most dedicated and healthy youth leaders can find themselves personally in need of a reset.  This is not a sign of failure or of weakness.  Remember that there is only one Messiah, and he is not you.  It may be time to request a sabbatical or to transition into another area of ministry or care.  Ultimately, we cannot be of service to God or young people if we have been knocked out of commission.  Prayerfully consider whether or not your time of health and fruitfulness in your current position has come to an end.  Or, is there an opportunity to take a significant season of rest by way of a sabbatical?  Speak to your spouse and supervisors and begin to form a plan for your own reset.

Caring for students today is more challenging than it has ever been.  Do not do it alone.  Find a community of support and lean into that community when things get difficult.  Most of all, remember that God is our hope, our refuge and our counselor.  Jesus has promised us the “paraclete” (counselor and advocate), that is the Holy Spirit, to comfort us, guide us and remind us of who we are in Christ.  This wonderful counselor is available 24/7 and He understands us and always has time to listen to us.  Cry out to Him. Call upon Him.  Gain power from Him.  He is dwelling within you and longs to speak life and light into your darkest moments and thoughts.  He will give you wise counsel both for yourself and for those around you. Remember these words from Jesus, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1  

Other Posts in this Series:

LOVE LIFE: Critical Care for Students and Care Givers in a Suicide Culture

LOVE LIFE: Suicide in Seattle - 16 Risk Factors

LOVE LIFE: Breaking the Code of Silence

LOVE LIFE: Engaging with Suicidal Students

LOVE LIFE: 8 Thinking Errors Common Among Suicidal Students

LOVE LIFE: Coping by Cutting - Understanding and Engaging A Student Who Is Cutting

LOVE LIFE: Caring For the Care-Giver - Paying the Toll of Caring for Students In Trauma

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