Depression can be defined as feelings of dejection and hopelessness that typically last for more than two weeks. A study released in 2019 showed that the rates of teen suicide and depression drastically increased from 2007 to 2017. According to a nationwide poll by the University of Michigan, one third of parents believe that they have at least one child who suffers from depression.
When we think about the implications that this has on our students and families, it should give us pause to step back and assess how our students are doing.
It is clear that depression is a major issue in our communities as doctors are seeing a rise in cases of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts that are at epidemic proportions. Our students are hurting, and we need to know how to love and care for them during this volatile time. So how do we do this well?
Be a safe person.
Students want to have people in their lives they can trust and go to in difficult times. It is helpful to think about how we reflect this value to our students and show them that they can come to us without judgement or criticism.
When we love our students well and show them that we are there for them, they will be more prone to share what is truly going on. This will then allow for us to administer direct and appropriate care quicker because we know the true issue. Create intentional conversations during everyday activities, and take an interest in your students’ lives as you engage with them. This will show them that you are on their side and truly care about them and what they are dealing with.
Students want people in their lives who are authentic and transparent with them. When it comes to shepherding our students, we need to empathize and sympathize with them and let them know it is okay to not be okay. It is okay if they feel hurt or are depressed, but it isn’t okay to stay there and let it grow and fester.
Be honest with your students and let them know that you understand. Don’t look to judge or criticize, but listen and seek to understand. Tell them that they are loved and valued, and that you will walk with them through this. Make sure that your actions mirror your words because students are looking for authenticity and relationships.
Know the signs.
It is important to know what we are dealing with, but how do we identify depression? There are numerous resources online about the symptoms of depression but some key identifiers include the following:
- Changes in behavior
- Withdrawing from friendships
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Lack of energy or drive
- Poor performance in school
- No longer finding pleasure in things they once enjoyed
No one symptom immediately denotes depression, but if the symptoms are prolonged (present for more than two weeks) and noticeable, it may be time to dig in and ask your student how they are really doing.
Seek to understand.
As you talk to your students, listen for key phrases and watch for reactions and emotional responses. A great way to understand your students would be to think through asking questions like these:
- What feelings are you experiencing?
- When do find yourself feeling that way?
- When did you first start feeling this way?
- When do these feelings seem strongest?
- How are your friendships going?
- Has there been a big change in your life recently?
- Have you lost anything (i.e. friendships, a family death, a pet, grades, etc.)?
- How often are you on social media?
- Are you being bullied or picked on? When does this tend to happen?
These questions will allow you to better understand what is happening. They are not the culminating factor to your conversation, but instead allow you to invest, assess, and better respond to your students and their struggles.
We cannot minimize the power of Scripture when it comes to our daily lives. I am not advocating that we simply tell our struggling students to read their Bible and pray more, but I would always encourage that we use Scripture as our basis for truth and growth. Some great Bible passages about depression and working through it include: Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 30:5, 11-12, Psalm 46:1, Hebrews 4:15-16, 1 Kings 19:4-6, and Psalm 42:5.
Take advantage of resources.
There are resources at your disposal to help in cases of depression or in trying to identify if depression truly is affecting your students. The first is talk to people in their lives like teachers, small group leaders, and parents. They may be able to provide additional information or resources to you.
You should also know trusted counselors in your community. Begin reaching out to various counselors and counseling offices before the need exists, which will allow you to be better prepared and equipped when needed. In building these relationships, you will find others who share your values and/or beliefs and can be sources of professional help for your students.
Make sure to build your own resources and knowledge as well. Utilize online resources, books, medical journals, and ministry tools to help you have a more comprehensive understanding of depression. In doing this you are not only increasing your knowledge but also equipping yourself to be a better care giver for you students.
It is also important to encourage utilizing modern medicine. It is never a bad thing to seek out help and treatment, and for some cases, this is highly encouraged. They are able to diagnose different causes and symptoms we may not see or know about, and can therefore better treat them and help our students live better.
Depression is hard. It is a difficult road for anyone struggling with it, but we have the privilege of standing in the gap for our students. We get to love them, care for them, and point them to Jesus in all things. My prayer is that these thoughts help you to better step into your student’s life and walk with them through the difficult moments.