Understanding Your Teen’s Depression

While it can be tempting to view your teen’s depression as pouting, or simply the result of hormone fluctuations, the truth is that your child’s despondency is an outward expression of internal unrest.

It can be tempting to grow impatient with your teen’s emotional instability. Oftentimes, in frustration, parents may resort to trite slogans and superficial encouragements. Even so, a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is desperately insufficient to help our teens. In fact, any strategy that invites us to rely upon our own willpower for change is a limited resource at best, and painfully destructive at worst, “for not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9).

It’s important to view depression through a biblical lens. When the Scriptures inform how you think about depression, your posture toward your teen can become more humble, gracious, and compassionate. Let’s take a look at some core statements that offer a biblical framework for moving forward in your care.

Depression Is Not Abnormal

Understand that your teen’s depression, though possibly severe, is not an abnormal human experience. It’s ultimately the result of living in a fallen world that is broken by sin, death, mourning, crying, and pain (Revelation 21:4).

Think about it. Babies are born crying, not laughing. They need the warm, soothing embrace of someone else in order to find their calm. The same is true for us. To experience happiness, we need satisfaction, comfort, and pleasure that we cannot manufacture within ourselves. We constantly pursue happiness because it seems to elude us— no matter what we have, how much we have of it, or how long we have it for.

Depression Is a Form of Suffering

It can be challenging to view your teen’s depression as a form of suffering, but that is what it is. A biblical example is found in Psalm 88, which is often referred to as “the unresolved psalm.” It is called this since, unlike the other songs in the book, this particular psalm does not end with any hope of resolution or rescue. Instead the writer honestly communicates his feelings of living in deep darkness, and reveals that we don’t always get answers from God in the midst of our despair.

If this is the experience of a faithful man of God, how much more painful and confusing must depression be for a teenager with far less emotional and spiritual maturity? If you personally have experienced depression in the past, remind yourself of its torture. If you have not experienced depression, try to put yourself in the shoes of the sufferer who penned Psalm 88. Your teen is feeling this unrest now, daily, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Depression Involves Both Body and Soul

There are those who hold the view that depression is strictly a physical issue, and others who regard depression as solely spiritual. If we believe our teen is depressed solely because of a spiritual issue, we may treat him or her with less compassion, or place blame upon him or her for this particular struggle. In similar fashion, if we believe depression is purely a physical issue, then we may ignore the necessity for evangelism and/ or discipleship during the healing process.

The problem with these either/or approaches is that they’re too simplistic, or reductionist. Humans are not merely biological organisms to manage through medication, nor are they merely spiritual beings impervious to the physical complications that arise from living in finite, fallen bodies.

In the very beginning, God created man as body and soul— both of equal value and necessity. God used dust from the ground (the physical component) as well as his own divine breath (the spiritual component) to bring Adam to life. Embracing this unity is imperative in our approach to helping our depressed teen. We need to consider possible physical components, and we need to recognize that our teen’s spiritual care is important.

Excerpted and condensed from Help! My Teen Is Depressed by Christine Chappell

Shepherd Press