Signs and Treatment of Depression in Christian Children
From the Christian Parenting Corner
by Sylvia Cochran
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18Depression is a hot potato in Christian circles. Church leaders and Christian faithful alike are unsure how to treat a disease with symptoms that look decidedly unscriptural. Of course, unlike adultery and lying, suffering from depression is not a choice. Nevertheless, depressed adults are frequently marginalized and earnestly counseled to be ‘more joyful.’
Over time, some adults may choose to put on a game-face and thus fit in with the rank and file. Children, on the other hand, do not choose to do so. Being spiritually pure and unwilling to become false, signs of depression are quickly and consistently visible – until parents force them to mask their condition or they choose to walk away from the faith.
Depression in Children: Causes
Depression in kids has multiple causes. Irina Sokolova from the Rochester Institute of Technology attributes the condition to genetic factors, stress, the relationship with parents and peers and also early childhood experiences. Depression in children is more far-reaching than most parents would like to believe.
Current estimates suggest that about one in 33 children and one in eight teens suffer from depression. Suicides affect even the five-year-old demographic and parents will do well to remember that for teens it is the third leading cause of death.
Signs of Depression in Christian Kids
Much like their non-Christian counterparts, children who grow up in the church experience a sudden or gradual loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. They may become critical of others and themselves. They evidence a fear of failure and a lack of ambition to even try something.
Against the Christian backdrop, the children may suddenly dread going to Sunday school, participate in Vacation Bible School or attend summer camp. Anger may become paramount while sadness is far less common. Frustration may give way to destructive behaviors.
Depression Treatment: A Must for Christian Families
It would be foolhardy to assume that a Scripture alone can cure an ailment any more than wishful thinking can mend a broken leg. Mind you, faith has the power to move mountains and is therefore part of any kind of physical, emotional or psychological healing process.The kind of scripture use I refer to here is instead the use of God’s word as a whip, designed to scare a child into following the herd and pretend to be or feel something she is or does not.
Not surprisingly, depression treatments involve prescription drugs as indicated, an intervention for the entire family – not just the affected child – and also a familial education on the disease and its treatment. Christian families, in particular, may require a fundamental education about the physical manifestations of depression in addition to the behavioral signs.
Parents must understand that depression – just like a broken leg – have a physical component that demands mending. This may sometimes place the parent in a quandary when counseled by church leaders about their parenting. To this end, here are some suggestions:
- It is true that depression may have some spiritual causes. That being said, it is highly unlikely that this is the case in children. In adults, there is a chance that guilt, un-confessed or secret sin lead to depression-like symptoms. Children – who by their very nature have not yet attained the age of reason – do not sin and thus do not fall under this category. Remind church leaders respectfully of this fact.
- Evaluate the leadership’s use of scripture. Although it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness,” it should never be used as a whip but instead as a means for removing guilt. Parents who are made to feel guilty for their children showing (or being treated for) symptoms of depression may be suffering from harsh counsel.
- Remember that the Apostle Paul traveled with a physician and that he himself gave medical counsel to Timothy. Thus, there is ample precedent that provides a spiritual basis for seeking medical intervention. Combining this with the fact that depression in children is a mix of biochemical reactions that find an outlet in physical symptoms, it only makes sense to seek medical treatment. Run – don’t walk! — from a faith community that seeks to dissuade you from getting your depressed child or teen the medical help he needs. Remember: getting medical treatment is not a lack of faith in God but a grateful acceptance of the medical treatment options He provided.
- Last but not least: remember that God put you in charge of parenting your child. This means advocating for him, working with him and strengthening him to become a strong Christian himself. Seek godly counsel within the church, medical counsel outside of it and above all seek daily help from above. In this manner, you can cherish your child’s individuality, embrace the depression, work within the treatment plan, and continue to raise a faithful child in the process.
Also see my Parenting by the Book Review of The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience
Irina V. Sokolova. “Depression in Children: What Causes It and How We Can Help”