Wholly Living

Getting Proactive About Teen Depression and Suicide

Here are seven ways parents can better understand and walk alongside their teens to help them achieve self-acceptance and hope beyond despair. by Robin Melvin

They wish they had been aware of the signs and had intervened. That’s what family members and friends of suicide victims say as they wrestle with guilt and regret. Thankfully, our understanding of mental health issues is growing. Physiological, biological, psychological and developmental factors contribute to mental health challenges such as depression. Where once it was simple to assign blame to such outcomes as suicide, the better response involves compassionate care and support.

The complexity of modern life, with its many choices and messages, makes teenagers particularly vulnerable to depression and suicide. Although suicide is the second largest cause of death for those aged 15-24, according to a Pew Research Center survey of teenagers in 2018, seven in ten U.S. teens said anxiety and depression is a major problem among people their age. Anxiety and depression lead many teens to harbor suicidal thoughts and experience episodes of depression. Research indicates that such mental health issues among teens is increasing year to year, a trend exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, guidelines from professional sources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics give parents of teens insights into what signs to look for and how to help.

First and foremost, knowing Christ as the Savior is an essential step to a positive identity, for through that relationship a person can know that God loves them and he or she is meant to be here. God calls people to fullness of life, to purpose, to self-acceptance, to love, by repenting of sin and looking to Jesus as the author and finisher of faith and the bearer of truth and light.

Jesus acknowledged that in this life we will experience sorrow, trouble and loss (see John 16:33). Faith is not an excuse to minimize or deny the despair and agony of those dealing with mental illness. Sarah Robinson indicates these depths in her book “I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die” (Waterbrook Press, publisher, ©2021). She battled depression from her earliest years, and found in a deeper walk with Christ some resolution, along with proactive steps she took toward acceptance, change and peace. “I don’t remember a time before the consuming ache, before I just wanted to stop hurting. In elementary school, I often stared out the bus window, imagining getting hit by a semitruck…I longed to go to sleep and never wake up. So each day I’d get up and head to school…pull straight As, and never let anybody see the monster gnawing at my insides.”

Robinson explains the importance of having a growth mindset instead of a mixed mindset. Here are some ways parents can better understand and walk alongside their teens to help them achieve self-acceptance and hope beyond despair.

LISTEN. Teens can be reticent, resentful, uncommunicative and resist advice. Try to respond to their communications without judging, by seeking first to understand and by letting them know they have been heard and deserve attention.

SHARE YOUR FEELINGS. Let them know that you, like everyone, have had struggles and emotional ups and downs, and that it is safe to talk about it.

SEEK HELP. If a teen is unrelentingly troubled, stuck or threatening self-harm or to lash out. Don’t wait to seek help, reach out to a local mental health official as soon as possible.

GET INVOLVED WITH A FAITH COMMUNITY. Find a Salvation Army corps or church committed to youth ministry where your teen can find acceptance and support.

HELP MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. Encourage a teen to have realistic expectations and not expect so much of themselves, which only lead to further loss of self-esteem and self-worth.

MOVE BEYOND ISOLATION. Group activities, exercise, seeking out positive role models and friends are critical antidotes to halt a further slide into isolation.

WALL OFF SOURCES OF HARM. Call out risky behavior, drug use and any dangerous behaviors before they escalate.

Often teens simply feel misunderstood. Once they know that their thoughts and feelings are respected and know they have people on their side who can be trusted, they can begin to foresee what God calls them to be. This is not an easy solution, nor are their quick fixes or steady upward progress. As God extends patience to us as He calls us to Him, so are we to with patience and perseverance, and most definitely with prayer, help each other discover who we are, and are called to be, within God’s righteousness and love.

RESOURCES

  • Healthychildren.org
  • Christianhospital.org
  • Churchandmentalhealth.com/suicide-prevention-resources-for-churches

—Report by Publications Staff.

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