Students and Depression
Students and Depression
By Pastor Nick
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 have 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.
Working with students on a daily basis and being a part of organizations in Derry Township that are seeking to improve the quality of health and life in families, it is clear that depression is a major issue in our communities. Doctors at the Med Center have stated that they 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 step in and love and care for them.
I am not writing this article in an attempt to scare us into action, to make us lament about the current state of students’ mental health, or to make us assume all our students struggle. I am writing this to help us understand the realities our students are faced with and to help equip us to minister to them. So how do we do this well?
Be a safe person: Students want to have people in their lives who they can trust and go to in times of hardship and distress. It is helpful for us to think about how we reflect this value to our students and show them that they can come to us without fear of 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, which will allow for us to administer better care more quickly. Create intentional conversations during every day activities and take an interest in your student’s life 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.
Be real: Students want people in their lives who are authentic and transparent with them. When it comes to parenting and 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 are hurting or depressed, but it isn’t okay to stay there and let it grow and fester. Instead, be honest with your student 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.
Know the signs: It is important to know what we are dealing with, but how do we know what depression actually is? There are numerous resources online about the symptoms of depression but some key identifiers include the following: changes in behavior, withdrawal from friendships, changes in eating and sleeping habits, agitation, irritability, restlessness, lack of energy or drive, poor performance in school, and no longer finding pleasure in things they once enjoyed. No one symptom immediately denotes depression, but if the symptoms are prolonged (more than two weeks) and noticeable, it may be time to dig in and ask your student how they are truly doing.
Seek to understand: As you talk to your students, listen for key things. What are the triggers to the feelings they are experiencing? What was the beginning factor to the depression? When do these feelings seem strongest? What are their friendships like? Has there been a loss of some type? Is there overuse or dependency on social media or electronic mediums? These factors will allow you to better understand what is happening. When you have a more holistic understanding it allows for you to better care and minister to your student.
Utilize Scripture: We cannot minimize the power of Scripture when it comes to our daily lives. I am not advocating that we simply tell our students who struggle 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 numerous resources that are at our disposal to help in cases of depression or in trying to understand if depression truly is affecting your student. The first is talk to people in their lives like teachers, small group leaders, and ministry staff. They may be able to provide additional information or resources to you. As a student ministry staff, we have countless books, articles, and resources we can get into your hands to help you in this regard. It is also important to know who the trusted counselors are in your community. We are blessed to have counselors who work out of Hershey Free and are gifted in caring for students and adults. In order to be connected with a counselor, simply call the church office and ask about counseling and they will get you to the right people. Lastly, we would always encourage utilizing modern medicine. We are blessed to have amazing physicians, psychologists, and mental health experts who both live and work in our communities. 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 as such can 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, as well as celebrate the high points.