Unable to reason with one of the teens, youth worker Jana suggested the parents have their daughter seen by her doctor. Mom called the next morning and said, “Doctor, please talk to and evaluate my 13-year-old girl.”

He answered, “She’s suffering from a transient psychosis with an intermittent rage disorder, punctuated by episodic radical mood swings, but her prognosis is good for full recovery.”

Mom said, “How can you say all that without even meeting her?”

The doctor replied, “Didn’t you say she was 13?”

Many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes are simultaneously occurring during adolescence. Some teens become severely depressed. Adolescence is an unsettling time and it is not always easy to come alongside a teen when heor she doesn’t want you involved in his or her life.

CBS News reports teenage depression is a growing problem in this country. One out of every 10 teens will battle some form of depression at some point, and up to 4,000 attempt suicide every year. Family discord and broken boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are two universal reasons. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 25. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 to 14.

In my family, 16-year-old Tamra writes fiction stories for her peer group. She recognizes that depression and suicide are an issue. Through her words, she gives her readers a glimpse into a depressed and suicidal teen’s mind: “No one talks to me, as in truly talks to me. They’re not interested; they just talk to talk. They’re all fake; they don’t really care about me. When it comes down to it, I’m all alone. I’m so tired of my life…I lost track of who I was, and now I can’t go back.”

The main character in her story is a 17-year-old girl who chooses to step in and come alongside this despondent girl. Her intention is not to become a hero, but she is. Through her dramatic story, Tamra wants her readers to feel just how important it is for us to open our ears to the cries of hurting teens all around us. She also points out how good it feels to help someone else. It is certainly a building block of self-esteem.

Consider more alarming news: the impact of the media reporting suicides of celebrities may affect general suicide rates due to an imitation effect. Studies show that celebrity suicides are 5.27 times more likely to report a copycat effect than non-celebrity suicides. That’s scary—and more reason to come along side a dispirited teen because we know how influential celebrities are in teens lives.

The sister of a depressed 17-year-old boy who purposely overdosed on drugs and died said, “If he only could have realized that what he was experiencing was normal for a kid his age. I wish we had been there more to wait it out with him and walk through all the changes with him. I really believe if he held out a few more years he never would have made this fatal choice.”

If a teen appears depressed or disconcerted, be concerned and step up. Be the shepherd in Psalms 23. Take their hand and walk with them through their valleys of darkness. Keep trying, even if they push you away. Someday they will thank you for intervening. The psalm is a description of our divine Shepherd. As a Christian, we are expected to reach out as Jesus would to shepherd a teen in turmoil.
• Sheep are helpless and need protection and care. They won’t lie down in the green pasture unless their shepherd is nearby. Then they feel safe and can sleep. In this crazy world we need to lie down, breath and refocus with our teens.
• A shepherd guides his sheep down the right paths—in the right direction. Certain paths in the valley are filled with danger, but the shepherd knows the way and walks through every dark valley with his or her sheep.
• Assure teens that God’s presence and protection in this dark valley can overcome the worst thing—fear, for example. “I will fear no evil, for You [God] are with me.” Discuss emotions of hopelessness or worthlessness openly. Be available to talk. Normalize and respect what they are feeling.
• The shepherd used a heavy club called a rod as a weapon of defense to drive off beasts of prey and protect the sheep from attacks. He used a staff to lean upon, as well as to guide straying sheep. We give a teen God’s Word to protect, guide, lean upon, discipline, encourage and comfort. We get friends, family members, pastors and possibly mental health professionals involved.
• “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This is a picture of hope and a victory celebration because the enemies are captives. Teens must know there are enemies out there whose only desire is to puff themselves up or tear others down. Scripture says, “The one [Jesus] who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties” (Romans 8:37). Assure them victory is around the corner!
• The psalm speaks about anointing the head with oil. Sheep get upset when pesky flies lay eggs on their noses. The shepherd calms them down by pouring special oil on their heads to keep the flies away. God has the ability to use us to help a teen calm down when he or she get out of sorts. We pray for spiritual anointing.
• At the end of the day, the shepherd gives each sheep a drink from a big bowl of cool water—water of life. Its cup overflows. What kind of encouragement can you offer a teen at the end of the day that will provide refreshment? You never can give too much genuine validation—be specific.
• When we dwell in the house of the Lord, goodness and love will follow. Remind teens that every day God gives us good gifts regardless of whether we’re deserving.

One thousand years after David wrote Psalm 23, one of his descendents—Jesus, was born in his home town of Bethlehem. He said: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me—just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father—and I lay down My life for the sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:14-15, John 10:27-29).

The Good Shepherd tends to, watches over, feeds and protects His sheep. He cares more deeply than we can know. Do we tend to the teens God has put under our care with the same concern with which the Good Shepherd tends to us? What steps do you need to take to be better prepared to be a shepherd?

Desperate teens need to know there is nothing wrong with them or their situation, that what they face is normal and fixable. They have to believe God is in control; therefore, their lives are not out of control. They also must have faith in which they can believe. If you notice warning signs or have a gut feeling that things are not right, talk with the distressed teen. Don’t be afraid to ask about a teen about suicidal thoughts and seek outside help.

A proverb is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over—it became a butterfly.”

[This material, although reworked, is an excerpt from Torn Between Two Masters (Tate Publishing, June 2011). In this book, Davidson explains what parents, youth leaders and mentors need to know to counteract the devastating influence that celebrity obsession is having on youth.]

Kimberly Davidson received an M.A. in specialized ministry from Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon. She is a board certified biblical counselor, personal life coach, speaker and founder of Olive Branch Outreach, a ministry dedicated to bringing hope and restoration to those struggling with eating disorders and body image. She volunteers in student ministries and youth education outreach. She is the author of four books and a contributor to five books.

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