Countering Depression In This Generation
With the pervasive influence of Social Media comparisons, the gaming role-play violence, Madison Avenue marketing, and the break-up of the family, we have seen a decrease of mental health and a rise in depression and ultimately suicide in the Millennial and the GenZ set. There are many other triggers of course. But, these prevailing issues are at center stage of the destruction of teenage self-esteem and mental health. As YTH Leaders, how can we counter the depression in this generation? Afterall, the teen years should be the greatest days of a teenagers life.
A Working Definition
Depression can be seen as a severe dejection, sadness, and despondency. It creates isolation, confusion, and fear. It generally is considered long-term, but, it can come and go in various levels for a short period of time also. There are many troubling signs when it comes to depression.
As a YTH Leader, to identify students who are struggling with depression, here are just a few things you should be looking for:
Poor academic performance in school
Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities
Sadness and hopelessness
Lack of enthusiasm, energy, or motivation
Anger and rage and aggressiveness
Overreaction to criticism
Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
Poor self-esteem, cutting, or bodily harm
Indecision or lack of concentration and forgetfulness
Changes in eating or sleeping or behavioral patterns
Problems with the family, or community, or authority
And ultimately suicidal thoughts or actions
With this as a foundation, let’s look at how to deal with depression in teenagers lives.
Help! My Students Are Depressed
These should be the best days of a teenagers life. Yet, dealing with depression in teenagers can be difficult - not just because of the aforementioned triggers - but because they haven’t developed their brain and necessary critical thinking skills. Following are some practical helps for YTH Leaders to counter the depression in this generation.
1. Health and Wellness issues. This can be seen in skin problems, heart disease, blood pressure, weight gain/loss, sleeplessness, and organ dysfunction. And when our health fails, so does everything else. Health issues can be the cause or the outcome of depression. Notice the signs and be pro-active to address these.
PRACTICAL HELP - As a YTH Leader we must be emphasizing the importance of wellness in our own life as well as our students. What are we modeling to our students by the way we eat? Or by how we take care of our body. Wellness should be something that gets into our messaging to teens on a regular basis.
2. Negative thinking and talk. Listen. A teens perspective is a powerful solution to any situation they may be in. So listen. It can be easy to minimize God and maximize our problems. But, we must help teens maximize God and minimize their problems. We have to place more power in God than our problem. If my hand represents my problem and I place my hand in front of my face I will not be able to see anything. What I have to do is put that problem or hand in perspective and move it away from my face so that I can see.
PRACTICAL HELP - Speak positively to teens. Don’t mock them or bully them in personal conversation or publicly. Help them change their surroundings, or furniture, or the clothing that triggers bad memories, or bad habits, or even changing their mindset. This can make an immediate difference. Move from a negative perspective to a positive one with your words. Speak joy, peace, self-love, and forgiveness over their life daily.
3. Relationships are critical. For many reasons. But mostly because our relationships are the greatest impact upon our life. And if our relationships are broken, we experience depression, anger, negativity, or isolation. We end up unable to think beyond our problem and believing that we are the only one experiencing what we are going through.
PRACTICAL HELP - Be an example of love to your students. Tell them publicly that you love them. Speak life into them. And build a culture of community. If you see teens who show signs of depression it is important to keep them connected to mature, steady, peers and adults who can help them problem solve. Bad relationships can isolate us from help. We can learn so much from the university of people around us. In community, we can see that other have gone through the same thing I am experiencing and they have won!
4. Idolatry steals away our worship of God. It may be difficult to see this. And how it relates to depression. Let me explain. Idolatry removes God from our worldview and places other things at the center of our life. And we start to build a mindset around what we center our life around. Music and the worship of God is powerful. It can help us focus upon the right things in life.
For instance, when people become our focus, if they disappoint us it sends us into depression. Or, if we place money as our focus, if we don’t have enough of it, we get depressed. And finally, if we allow Madison Avenue to define our look or Social Media to define our image, we become depressed. But, when our focus is upon God and His grace and mercy in our lives, we have a foundation of love to deal with any disappointment.
PRACTICAL HELP - Worship should be a major part of every YTH Ministry. Worship brings the presence of God into our thinking and lives. Use music to build the presence of God in teens lives. Encourage them to make their bedroom a prayer room. A worship center!
5. The Sabbaoth has been lost. When is the last time you rested for a day? Can you remember when you last took a nap? Or spent an hour doing nothing. In this Millennial and GenZ set there is the idea that if I am busy I am producing. Stop equating business with spirituality. Christianity is more about grace and rest than it is about works.
The Sabbaoth is a commandment. God didn’t give us a suggestion. He gave us a command. That we would rest. Faith and rest will be a great cure for the stresses that can cause depression.
I love what David said in Psalm 31. In the middle of great turmoil and stress, David cried, "As for me, I trust in the Lord. I say you are my God. And I run and chase and cling to you as my refuge."
PRACTICAL HELP - Slow teens down. Even having a YTH Service once a quarter that is all worship or prayer can be a stress relief. We don’t have to always be programming. And ask for students to commit to the YTH Ministry. A period of time committed to the Church will reap great rewards in their life. Make the stress of life drive them to God by creating a regular sabbaoth that places faith and rest as a priority in the ministry.
Finally, if you are seeing depression in students, try using these preventative actions. You may be able to curb the downhill spiral if you catch it quickly:
Controlling stress - Find outside activities to involve teens in that will help them alleviate stress in their life. Exercise and outdoor activities increase perspective and health.
Involve teens in community - We all need a good crew or tribe or group around us. It increases the chances of a teen wee other peers solving problems and making it though difficult times. This is critical to their mental health in times of crisis.
Academic tutoring - I have seen this increase the self-esteem of a teen quickly. Especially in the Millennial and the GenZ sets who are so driven by scholastic success.
Mentoring relationships - Sometimes peer relationships are not enough. But an adult can help a teen see with more experience, wisdom, and knowledge. Icons have a great affect upon us. Use them in teens lives wisely.
There is nothing wrong with referral to a counselor - Prevention of depression from worsening is best handled by a professional. There is a growing acceptance for these trained counselors in our society. And that is a good thing.
Our influence as YTH Leaders is tremendous. Aside from these things above, there are some simple things to help you counter depression that are found in Exodus 20 in the Ten Commandments, and, in Psalm 46 and the words of David. Both of these chapters deal with the preeminence of God in our lives. The writers combine to tell us to ‘place God before everything’ and ‘keep the sabbaoth’ and to ‘be still and know that He is God.’ These would be great prayers to pray over ourselves and the teens we serve.
I know that it sounds like I am ‘spiritualizing’ an issue that is not always a spiritual issue. But, depression can be identified early and solved with a holistic approach of spiritual leadership, practical physical wellness, and mental health counseling. It is elementary to YTH Leadership that we are equipped to deal with depression. Hopefully these words will help equip you to be a healthy role model to a generation in desperate need of guidance.