I have been asked to speak to a group of high school students this Sunday evening about depression. It’s not an easy topic to delve into by any means, but it is relevant. Unfortunately, suicide ideation among teens is far too common. And, depression is by no means uncommon among students. Where do I begin?
I have a strong hunch that some students are of a mind that being sad is unacceptable. If they feel sad, then they conclude something must be wrong with them! Is that a result of a generation of helicopter parenting? It certainly could be a contributing factor… In an attempt to hover and create an idyllic life for their children, parents potentially keep their children from being able to experience sadness or grief in a healthy manner.
As I look back on my own parenting efforts, I recognize that I failed in a different way. I did not express a variety of emotions in constructive ways. In my younger years, I was inclined to be pretty stoic. I did not outwardly show the sad emotions I was experiencing. As an older man, verbal expressions of grief come much easier. And I am less fearful of tears. Teens need to see their parents experience the gamut of emotion, including sadness.
There are legitimate reasons to be heartbroken. Feeling empathy for a struggling friend is a good reason to feel mournful. Experiencing grief over a loss is legitimate! There is no reason to circumvent that process. When a friend moves away, feeling downcast is quite natural. And of course, teens are perfectly capable of being cruel to each other. Such unpleasant encounters naturally trigger heavy hearts. It’s ok to be sad. I am convinced that needs to be affirmed.
And then there is depression….It’s real. And it affects teenagers. It’s important to distinguish the difference between sadness and depression. Students need safe adults in their life to help them navigate the complexities of life. Caring adults need to step up and help young people when it comes to their mental health. Such adults may not be experts in depression, but perhaps they can do some networking and referrals. Practicing good listening skills is always a good thing! The lack of caring adults in a teen’s life fosters the hopelessness that is characteristic of depression.
As I prepare for Sunday evening, there are three realities that keeping coming back to the forefront:
- Students need to know that being sad is perfectly normal and healthy.
- Depression is real. A basic knowledge of its symptoms is important.
- Caring adults who are willing to reach out to teens are priceless.