How You Can Help
“Depressed kids need help. But kids can’t get that help on their own. An adult first has to recognize the problem and take it seriously. That’s the hard part.”—Dr. Mark S. Gold.
WHAT can you do if you suspect that your teen is depressed? First, do not jump to conclusions about the matter. After all, the symptoms might point to something else altogether.* Furthermore, all youths go through occasional periods of moodiness. But if the condition persists and seems to be more than a temporary slump, it might be best to consult a doctor. In this regard, it is good to keep in mind Jesus’ words: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do.”—Matthew 9:12.
Openly provide your physician with any helpful information you can, including recent changes in the teen’s life that might be contributing to his or her listlessness. Make sure that the doctor spends enough time listening to the symptoms before making a diagnosis. “It’s impossible to gather all the information necessary to fully evaluate a child in a single, twenty-minute session,” warns Dr. David G. Fassler.
Freely ask the physician any questions that you may have. For instance, if the doctor feels that your teen is clinically depressed, you might want to ask why he ruled out other diagnoses. If you have doubts about the doctor’s evaluation, tell him you would like to get a second opinion. Surely, no upright and sincere doctor would dissuade you from doing so.
Coming to Terms
If your teen is clinically depressed, do not be ashamed of the situation. The fact is, depression can overtake the finest of young people. Indeed, the Bible shows that painful emotions have afflicted some who strove their best to serve God, regardless of their age. Consider faithful Job, who felt abandoned by God and therefore expressed a loathing for life. (Job 10:1; 29:2, 4, 5) Hannah was a servant of God who became so “bitter of soul” that she could not eat. (1 Samuel 1:4-10) Then there was the godly man Jacob, who mourned for many days after the death of his son and ‘refused to take comfort.’ Why, Jacob even expressed the desire to join his son in the grave! (Genesis 37:33-35) Hence, emotional distress is not always rooted in some spiritual flaw.
Nevertheless, depression in a teen can exact a heavy toll on parents. “I walk an emotional tightrope,” says the mother of one depressed teen. “I’m concerned, scared, hostile, angry and exhausted.” Another admits: “I would go out and see a mother shopping with her teenage daughter and my heart would break because I felt I had lost that with [my daughter] and I would never have it again.”
Such feelings are normal. At times, though, they may become overwhelming. If that happens, why not confide in a trusted friend? Proverbs 17:17 states: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” Also, do not neglect prayer. The Bible assures us that if we throw our burden upon God, he will sustain us.—Psalm 55:22.
The Tendency to Blame
Many parents of depressed teens become intensely discouraged and feel that they are somehow to blame for the situation. “When your child is depressed,” admits one parent, “you do feel guilty and no one can tell you any different. You keep wondering, ‘Where did we go wrong? Where was the turning point? How did I contribute to this?’” How can parents keep their thinking balanced in this regard?
There is no doubt that a harsh atmosphere in the home can adversely affect a child. For good reason, the Bible admonishes fathers: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) Therefore, parents would do well to analyze their methods of dealing with their children and make adjustments where necessary. But depression is not always the result of poor parenting. Indeed, the disorder can be found in the most loving of homes. Hence, parents who are doing all they can to help their children need not feel guilty.
It is equally important not to blame the depressed teen. After all, he or she likely has little control over the disorder. “I would never blame him for having chicken pox or pneumonia,” says one mother. “But with depression,” she admits, “that’s what I did. I blamed my child for getting sick—which makes me feel awful.” Viewing depression as a sickness rather than a weakness will help parents and others focus on how they can support the sufferer.
Raising a depressed teen can put a palpable strain on the relationship between the parents. “We blamed each other,” says one wife, “especially when we thought about the life we had expected to have and the life that we did have because of our son.” Tim, whose daughter suffers from depression, admits: “It’s easy to blame your mate. If parents have marital problems before the child starts showing signs of depression, the child’s puzzling behavior could be the last straw.” Do not let a child’s depression drive a wedge into your marriage! Really, little good is accomplished by pointing the finger—whether at yourself, your child, or your mate. The important thing is to provide support for the sufferer.
The Bible admonishes Christians: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) If the depressed youth is plagued with feelings of low self-worth, you can help. How? Certainly not by making judgmental statements like, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or, “That’s the wrong attitude to have.” Instead, strive to be empathetic by showing “fellow feeling.” (1 Peter 3:8) Paul admonished Christians to “weep with people who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Remember, a person who is genuinely depressed really hurts. The pain is not imagined, nor is it feigned simply to elicit attention. After listening, try to draw out the sufferer. Ask why he or she feels that way. Then, gently and patiently help the teen to see why such a low assessment of himself or herself is not warranted. Reassurance of God’s love and mercy may help to alleviate the sufferer’s anxieties.—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
There may be further practical steps you can take. For instance, you may need to make sure that your depressed teen is getting a proper amount of rest, nutrition, and exercise. (Ecclesiastes 4:6) If medication is prescribed, it would be wise to help the teen see the importance of taking it. Never give up in providing support, and never let up in showing love.
Admittedly, depression in a teen can be a harrowing experience, for the sufferer and for the rest of the family. In the end, patience, perseverance, and love will provide a foundation for helping depressed teens.
Reportedly, some medical conditions—including mononucleosis, diabetes, anemia, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia—can produce depressionlike symptoms.
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A person who is genuinely depressed really hurts. The pain is not imagined
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IF YOU ARE A DEPRESSED TEEN
You are not alone, and your situation is by no means hopeless. Your depression may be linked to either (1) a biochemical imbalance or (2) circumstances in life over which you have little or no control. Either way, you are not to blame for your condition. Still, what can you do about it?
The Bible states that “there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) Why not find such a friend and pour out your feelings to that one? One of your parents or another mature adult can be your greatest ally in the fight against depression.
If your parents suspect that you are suffering from clinical depression, they may take you to a physician who is experienced in treating the disorder. This is a wise step, for often depression can be greatly relieved with treatment, where this is available. For example, when a chemical imbalance is involved, an antidepressant might be prescribed. If this is true in your case, do not feel ashamed of taking medication. It simply restores your body chemistry to its proper balance, and this can be the key to helping you regain a measure of joy and stability in your life.
Many sufferers of depression have gained comfort by reading the Bible and by drawing closer to God through prayer. The Bible assures us: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”*—Psalm 34:18.
For more information, see the article “Young People Ask . . . Should I Tell Someone That I’m Depressed?” which appeared in the October 22, 2000, issue of Awake!
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HELP AND HOPE FOR SUFFERERS
Since depression is a complex subject, not all aspects of the matter could be considered in this brief series of articles. Nevertheless, the publishers of Awake! are confident that the points presented can help teens and their parents to endure this debilitating disorder.
You may have noted that much of the guidance in the preceding article was based on the Bible. Granted, it is an ancient book. Yet, its counsel is as practical today as it was when it was penned. Why? Because although times have changed, human nature has not. We are confronted with the same basic issues that faced previous generations. The difference is that today these problems are greater and more far-reaching.
There is another reason, though, why the Bible is highly practical: It is inspired by God. (2 Timothy 3:16) As our Creator, he knows what we need in order to get the most out of life.
Of course, the Bible is not a medical textbook. Hence, it does not eliminate the need for us to seek appropriate treatment for sicknesses, such as depression. Still, the Bible contains principles that can help us to comfort sufferers. More than that, it contains God’s promise that he will soon heal all of our maladies. (Psalm 103:3) Yes, Jehovah purposes to “revive the heart of the ones being crushed.”—Isaiah 57:15.
Would you like to learn more about this grand hope? Please contact Jehovah’s Witnesses locally or write to the appropriate address on page 5 of this magazine.
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Strive to show fellow feeling
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If a teen’s depressed mood persists, it is wise to consult a physician
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As a parent, do not be too hasty to blame yourself, your mate, or your teen