6. Depression In Teens


Teenage depression can be a very excruciating experience. Depression can vary from mild to severe. In its most severe form, it can lead to suicide.

In fact, any depressed person is a candidate for suicide. There has been a 300 per cent increase in adolescent suicide over the past 30 years.

Suicide now rates as the second leading cause of death among teens. It is estimated that nearly 500,000 teens attempt to commit suicide yearly. Only about one out of ten is successful in taking his life.

Depression in a teen is not something to be lightly regarded but is a serious matter. However, depression in a teen is very subtle and is hard to detect. In fact, they may act very normal. They often cover it up with what is called ‘smiling depression.’

It is helpful if parents can see a teen at times when they believe no one is looking at them. There is a tremendous transformation in the face. While alone they feel sad and miserable. If they think someone is watching they will put on a smiling mask.

Signs To Look For

Following are several ways depression affects teens. These are also signs one can watch for to determine if there is depression in a teen.

1. A very short attention span.

They cannot keep their mind focused on a subject as long as they once could.

2. They find themselves daydreaming more and more.

Often a teacher is in the best position to identify depression.

3. Poor grades are the next logical step.

However, the drop in grades is usually gradual so it is difficult to detect.

4. Boredom over several days is not normal and serves as a warning.

They want to be by themselves in their own room for long periods of time. Spends their time lying in bed, daydreaming and listening to music.

5. They begin to experience physical pain in different parts of their body, usually a headache or pain in the lower chest region.

6. Withdrawal from friends and peers, usually making themselves unavailable to them.

7. Once the mental pain begins to set in and is difficult to bear, they become desperate to do something about their misery.

They may resort to stealing, lying, fighting, driving fact, antisocial behaviour, or anything that produces excitement which momentarily takes their mind off their mental pain. Girls tend to act out their depression in less violent ways, sexual promiscuity is a common way.

As the mental pain increases drugs may be resorted to, drugs will block out the pain temporarily while the drug is having its effect but when it wears off the pain returns. In time this leads to wanting a greater quantity of drugs to ease the pain. It becomes a vicious cycle.

8. Finally a teen may act out his depression by attempting suicide.

Sometimes this is not a deliberate attempt to die but is their way of crying out for help. At other times it is an attempt to die. Usually, before a suicide, there is a preoccupation with thoughts of death, an increase in accidents and the giving away of prized possessions. Also, they may set their room in perfect order.

Causes Of Depression

Depression is very complex and complicated as to its causes but it seems the root cause of depression in most cases is pent-up anger either 1. Toward self, 2. Toward others, or 3. Toward God.

Until one can verbalise this anger, get it out in the open, resolve it and be forgiving, they stand a good chance of having depression later on in life. From early childhood, a child is taught to repress their anger and never show it.

‘Don’t you ever talk like that?’ ‘I’ll smack you in the mouth if you ever say that again.’ These are common expressions heard by a child when he shows anger.

As we observed in a previous lesson there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of showing anger but since most children show it inappropriately they are often punished thus reinforcing the idea that one should never become angry.

In many religious homes, children are often taught that anger is a sin. Paul wrote, ‘in your anger, do not sin,’ Ephesians 4:26. Anger is a normal emotion.

The problem is that many children learn faulty ways of expressing and handling the emotion of anger in early life. The result is it is repressed, pent-up, and never appropriately expressed.

In later years it brings on depression. These childhood grudges and pent up feelings which probably go back as far as four years of age are usually unconsciously stored in the mind. The child at the time may not even be aware of them.

Subconsciously they are ashamed or afraid to express them to themselves because they were conditioned early in life to suppress all anger. Let us observe now who this anger is directed toward.

Anger Toward Self

Overly strict parents can cause low self-esteem as we have noted in a previous lesson. The child assumes their parents are correct and blames themselves for failing to be what they want them to be.

As they grow older, this false guilt grows until they become angry at themselves. They feel inferior to others, which adds to their anger. All this anger is actually suppressed and unconscious.

In later years with this low self-esteem, they are overwhelmed with anger toward themselves for not being perfect. A very frequent thing is that when a child’s parents divorce, they will blame themselves for the divorce.

Their anger turns inward and they become depressed. Parents do not realise what emotional damage they do to their children by divorcing.

The solution to any anger turned inward is helping a child to have a good healthy feeling toward themselves. This must start long before pent-up anger begins to build up. The emotional tank must be kept full. This is the greatest deterrent to depression ever developing.

However, if a teenager is in a depressed condition, they must be able to verbalise their anger and learn to forgive themselves for not being perfect. They need to realise they are loved regardless of how imperfect they may feel. Most often they will feel that no one cares. They must be made to see that you do care.

Parents must make them realise they do not expect them to be more than they are and that they deeply love them. This may take a lot of time and attention but it must be done.

Anger Toward Others

Harsh, strict, overbearing, demanding parents can cause a child to store up a lot of anger. Paul wrote, ‘fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.’ Ephesians 6:4 / Colossians 3:21. This is what many parents do. Because the child is discouraged and feels inferior there is resentment toward their parents.

Sometimes one may be wronged by other members of the family or even those outside the family. It is even possible for this to be imagined at times. A teen must be helped to verbalise their feelings of anger. They may have to learn to forgive even if they do not feel the person deserves forgiveness.

An unusual situation is for a young person to become angry at a parent who dies. It isn’t right to be angry at a dead person, so they will then turn their anger inward on themselves. It is possible to have anger at a person who is already dead, especially where certain things were never resolved.

A teen must learn to verbalise this and then forgive even if the person is dead. Vengeance is just not worth the pain and agony one has to carry around in depression.

Anger Toward God

Believe it or not, a person can unconsciously have anger toward God. This often happens when there has been a death or sickness. The child blames God, ‘after all he is God, and he could have prevented or corrected the situation if he had wanted to.’

Anger toward God happens frequently in a strict legalistic family where a child feels God requires too much of them. Preachers are easy prey to this kind of thinking which is unconsciously carried around and later on develops into depression.

We probably don’t realise how much God is blamed for various things. Such pent-up anger can only lead to depression. The solution to this is to help children develop a healthy attitude toward God at an early age. They must see that God is love, 1 John 4:8, and that He does not bring harm and hurt to us.

We will have much more to say about this in our lesson dealing with the spiritual development of a child.

Solution For Depression

In depression, a teenager feels lonely, abandoned, and unloved. It is most crucial to show them we care about them and love them. We show this by spending time with them and keeping their emotional tank filled. We see to it has plenty of eye contact, physical contact and focused attention.

During these times of focused attention, the psychological defences come down so that a young person will often reveal their innermost thoughts.

Often they will let us know what is bothering them at the time. Then we have the opportunity to help them see the solution to their feelings. We can assure them of our love and God’s love.

In a family where love and good communications abound and where anger can be appropriately expressed depression will not happen to a teenager.

A Word Of Caution

There is strong evidence that depression leads to a chemical imbalance in the brain and this, in turn, makes the depression deeper. Two authorities have said that pent-up anger causes such chemical changes in our bodies that it results in susceptibility to nearly all-infectious diseases.

They conclude that pent-up anger is probably the leading cause of death. It is a well-known fact that mind and body are intimately related but it is not always known which comes first. If a teen has depression, they should receive medical help so they can regain the chemical balance in their brain.

This is a big part of overcoming depression. The point is, don’t wait for depression to go away in your teenager. It is too serious a matter. Act as soon as possible.

Go To Lesson 7


"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."