“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

As you are sitting in your office completing this week’s lesson, one of your students sends you the following text: “Can we talk?” You respond kindly and meet with her the next day at a local coffee shop. Tearfully, she tells you that she is lonely due to the loss of her best friend to another social group. While she is speaking, you notice that she is wearing long sleeves even though it is hot outside. She explains that she is not sure how she can return to school due to her rejection. She states that no one cares about her, not even her parents, who she believes are too busy to spend time with her.

Is this student depressed? Should you meet with her more regularly? Should you call a professional? What is your role in this situation?

As Christians, we believe that God places us in specific places for a reason, such as Esther who was placed in a foreign land “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). God has given you a leadership role with this particular student, and He will equip you to meet their needs (Hebrews 13:21). In this article, I will lay out several warning signs of depression and offer guidance in helping your students.

1. Students Verbalize Their Sadness.

When a student states that he or she is sad or depressed, you should be paying attention. Sometimes sadness may be circumstantial and will resolve itself when the situation clears. For these students, continually check-in to see if the sadness persists. If it does, inquire about the source of their sadness to see if you can help in any way. If the student continues to feel down after some time, approach parents with student’s permission about seeking out professional help.

2. Students Have a Change in Their Daily Habits

If a student has a change in their daily functioning, then you should be on the lookout. For example, increases or decreases in food intake or sleep patterns are indicators of depression. Students probably will not offer up this information, so you will need to be paying attention. They may complain about being tired or exhibit a weight change, either up or down.

3. Students Isolate

Consider reaching out to students who start spending less time with friends and family or suddenly become less interested in youth group. Depression causes people to look inward. Shame leads students to isolate from those that love them most.

4. Students Show Apathy

Depression makes people less interested in the activities they once enjoyed. Teenagers may stop playing a sport or engaging in other recreational activities. Apathy causes students to stop caring about their schoolwork, thus causing a drop in grades. As teenagers care less about their lives, they may engage in more risky behaviors such as illegal substance use or promiscuity.

5. Students Purposely Harm Their Bodies

Self-harm is a warning sign for depression and should be taken seriously. Students who self-harm are ashamed, especially around their authority figures. They may take measures to conceal their markings, such as wearing long sleeves in the summer. There are many different forms of self-injury. Though not an extensive list, some examples are cutting, picking, hair pulling, and burning. Cutting is the most common.

What should you do?

Most importantly, do what you already do, love your students. Through the love of Christ, He brings freedom to the broken. Take the time to listen your students and ask how you can help. Do not be scared to talk about depression as students may be looking for someone to talk to. You may even want to consider addressing the issue not only on an individual level but within the group. Just as Christ came to proclaim freedom to the captives and release the prisoners from darkness (Isaiah 61:1), He has sent you to do the same.  As you preach the Word and share the love of Christ, He will change hearts and minds. Yet at the same time, He may choose to bring healing through additional help.

If students are showing these warning signs, verbalize your concerns to them and ask for permission to contact their parents to begin the process of finding a mental health professional. Always remember, His love goes far in healing a hurting soul.

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About The Author

Whitney Owens, licensed professional counselor, works with adolescents and individuals at Water’s Edge Counseling in Savannah, Georgia. When not working or spending time with family, she volunteers regularly with the youth group at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, where her husband is the youth pastor. She leads a weekly Bible study for teenage girls. You will find a link to Whitney's website here: http://watersedgecounseling.com/