The statistics on teenage depression are rather startling. About 20 percent of teens (that’s 1 out of 5) will experience depression before they reach adulthood. Between 10 to 15 percent of teens have some symptoms of depression at any one time. About 5 percent of teens are suffering from major depression at any one time. Episodes of teen depression generally last about 8 months. About 8 percent of those experiencing depression will suffer with it at least a year. Most teens with depression will suffer from more than one episode. Of those suffering depression, 20 to 40 percent will have more than one episode within two years, and 70 percent will have more than one episode before adulthood.
Another startling fact is that most people don’t know what is happening to them when depression hits. They are mystified by what is happening. The result is that they usually don’t get help until they are severely depressed.
So let’s examine the symptoms of depression.
Depression comes in degrees. Various circumstances in life can bring on short term depression. One can easily become depressed when he doesn’t make the varsity team, when she didn’t get the grades she worked so hard to get or because of a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend. These can be depressing, but in a couple of weeks one is back on top again. This isn’t the depression we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with a deeper depression that last for weeks and months and is debilitating to one degree or another.
There are a number of classic symptom to such depression.
- Physical exhaustion. Depression leaves one physically exhausted.
- Change in sleep patterns. One who is depressed either cannot sleep well or he sleeps too much. Interestingly one can be physically exhausted and yet can’t sleep well. This is true when a person can’t stop fretting over mounting problems that depression brings.
- Change in eating habits. The depressed person often has no appetite and begins to lose weight. In some cases one handles the terrible stress of depression by overeating.
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things. This makes it makes it difficult to perform one’s normal tasks.
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Loss of interest in normal activities. The joy of life is gone for those with severe depression.
- The depressed person can be very irritable towards those around him, finding every day annoyances to be almost intolerable.
- Feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing. This is true especially when depression makes it impossible to carry out every day responsibilities.
- Loss of assurance of salvation. The severely depressed person sees himself as such a failure that he questions God’s ability to love him.
- A feeling of hopelessness. This is perhaps the worst part of deep depression. There appears to be no way out.
- Thoughts of death or dying as a way to escape.
The deeper one’s depression is, the more of these symptoms a person will experience and the more intense they will be.
Anxiety often accompanies depression. They are brother and sister to each other. Usually one will be more prominent than another. but they almost always team up together.
Anxiety is a sense of dread that seizes hold of one so that there is inner uneasiness. The Bible describes this as the soul that is cast down and disquieted (Psalm 42:5,11). This is accompanied by consuming worry over things that ordinarily would not bother a person and fear over the future, often with nothing specific in mind. This can be accompanied by physical reactions such as muscle tightness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, inability to relax and even hyper-ventilation.
This anxiety can attack at any time and last for a few to several hours. Sometimes it can last for days with little relief.
These anxiety attacks obviously are debilitating to one degree or another.
Depression and anxiety often lead to other disturbing and dangerous behavior. These include anorexia or bulimia, cutting, drinking and sexual sins. These are all sinful ways to mask and deal with the pain of depression and anxiety.
What should you do if you find yourself floundering under one or both of these scourges?
You need to get help as soon as possible.
A common mistake is to wait too long to get help. There are two things that contribute to this. First, the person that falls into depression or anxiety is ashamed and doesn’t want anyone to know. This is especially true when he isn’t able to keep up with his daily responsibilities. He sees himself as failure and is ashamed. Second, depression and anxiety clouds a person’s judgment. As one sinks deeper and deeper into the pit of depression or anxiety one tends to grasp for straws in an attempt to find a way out of this horrible dilemma. When he finally turns to others for help his depression or anxiety has become almost completely debilitating.
Should you experience depression or anxiety that affects your ability to function for over a few weeks you need to get help!
Where can you turn for help?
First, be assured that there is help. Perhaps the most terrible feature of severe depression is the loss of all hope for recovery! But with God nothing is impossible (Luke 18:27). He is near to all them that call upon him in truth (Psalm 145:18). Although the day of miracles is past, the God who did the miraculous in Bible times has the power to heal the broken soul that is devastated with depression and anxiety. He who sent his own Son to the cross to secure the salvation of his people will certainly hear them when they call to him from the depths of depression. In severe depression one’s faith is also “depressed” so that he can hardly believe this to be true. In fact, he often can hardly pray. But God’s promises are true. He will hear those that cry to him in need.
How and where will that help be found?
God provides a number of different sources to deliver his people from the ravages of depression and anxiety.
This may surprise you, but teenagers struggling with depression issues can find a great deal of help from their parents. It is true that the teenage years are often filled with conflict with parents. However, in a covenant home the teen that turns to his parents for help will most often find a listening ear, a compassionate heart, and a readiness to do whatever is necessary to help.
With the help and input of parents, the depressed teens need to connect with those who understand depression and anxiety. To many these things are a mystery and they find it difficult to help apart from offering encouragement. But there are those that do understand depression and can provide invaluable help. This can be a pastor, an elder, a fellow member of the church and/or a Christian counselor. With the help of those that truly understand depression and also with the support of those that do not, the depressed teenager will be led out of his depression and anxiety by a compassionate and understanding God.
In the next article we will discuss certain things that the depressed and anxious person must learn to do differently. This may include abandoning a sinful lifestyle. It usually involves correcting one’s view of self and the expectation set for self to match what the Bible teaches. Medication may also be an important part of recovery. And the recovery will be a process. But by God’s grace the depressed teen can be delivered from despair to joy and in the process become a much more productive and happy Christian.
- Rev Slopsema is minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches