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How the Church can offer hope to an anxious generation

A new study has revealed four in ten young people are anxious and uncertain about the future. Patrick Regan from Kintsugi Hope explains how Christians can play a key role in supporting those who are struggling

The Barna Group in conjunction with World Vision have just released the early findings of a new study showing an alarming 4 in 10 young adults are anxious or uncertain about the future or have a fear of failure.

Over 15,000 young adults across 25 countries were surveyed, with the results being published in ‘The Connected Generation’ report.  

Finance and vocation appear to be the root causes for this anxiety. The study also showed that only 1 in 3 of those surveyed in the UK feel deeply cared for by the people around them.

Driving my 16 year old to school we started to talk about the challenges of mental ill health. She casually said, "Dad most girls self-harm. It's a way of coping".

My heart sank as we started to discuss what is leading to such a heart-breaking state of affairs. I tried to listen, instead of jumping in with ways that I might help fix the situation. Keziah told me the pressure around exams, future, and friendships were all contributing factors. Then we got onto the topic of anxiety. It's a term that is used so often, but what does it mean to a young person? My daughter showed me a poem she wrote for GCSE acting to articulate her experience of anxiety and those around her:

Where you stay up all night, physically and mentally exhausted but you just can’t stop. So you lay there, staring at the ceiling, asking a million questions however not really wanting to know the answer at the same time, getting scared how you won’t get enough sleep and not be able to function the next day until you eventually pass out from tiredness. The feeling where nobody cares, nobody understands, are they all using me? Do they really like me? Do they just want to see me fail and laugh? Are they saying stuff behind my back? The feeling where whatever you do isn’t good enough, you need to be thin, pretty, confident, popular, liked. You crave attention you know you just can’t have, but without it you truly feel worthless.

The desire to belong is huge, yet often our young people think to be accepted they need to simply “fit in”, which is very different to belonging. They care and want to have a say about the big issues - climate change, poverty, war, and in many inner cities the rise of knife crime. These things really matter to them. Are we listening? It is no secret that in the European referendum the majority of young people voted to remain. Whatever your politics we cannot ignore the cry. There is a fear of disconnection and what that could mean.

When researching depression, journalist Johann Hari found that alongside basic needs such as food, water and shelter, we also have essential psychological needs, including the need to belong. He concluded that we have become disconnected from the things we really need and that this contributes to the current epidemic of depression and anxiety.

The facts are not comfortable, but they are real. Too many people, young and old, in our communities, feel completely alone, often not knowing where to go for help or not having anyone to turn to. From my experience people want to belong not fit in. The report shows that mentorships and friendships play an essential role in ‘keeping loneliness at bay’. We are so connected through our tech yet at the same time feel so alone.

Faith has a huge role to play to support our young people. ‘The Connected Generation’ revealed stark differences between young people who have a faith as opposed to those with no religious beliefs or affiliation, whereby levels of connectedness were higher among those with faith than those with no faith and levels of anxiety were lower among the former group too. The being together aspect of practising a faith and having deep meaningful relationship are essential for human living. 

The Church is so key. It is in every community across this country. It will outlast government schemes and is committed to people’s well-being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. That’s why 18 months ago I started a charity called Kintsugi Hope after the Japanese art of mending broken pots with golden glue. The gold makes a feature of the cracks, instead of hiding them. All of us have broken pieces, but instead of hiding them, we can learn from them. We can discover treasure in life’s scars. Kintsugi Hope’s heart is to see a world where those who are struggling with emotional and mental health find safe and supportive communities to grow and flourish - in local churches who have an attitude of humility – not to judge, fix or rescue but to come alongside and love.

Patrick Regan OBE is co-founder and CEO of Kintsugi Hope. Follow him on Twitter @patrickreganKH 

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