Teens, Depression, and Divorce … and Hope

Only 47 of American youth reach the age of 17 in a home with both biological or adoptive parents.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on May 13, 2018

As I walked out of class a couple of months ago, I observed one of my students curled up against a wall.

She looked up at me with desperation in her eyes and said, “I’m having an anxiety attack and left class to call someone to help me calm down.”

Anxiety, Depression and Loneliness

These kinds of things are not uncommon. In my two years-plus of teaching at a Christian university, I’ve had many students confide in me about their struggles with anxiety, depression and loneliness. In one of my classes, out of 25 students, five of them have had serious depressive and stress-related problems.

This is not uncommon. A new study by Blue Cross/Blue Shield shows that from 2013 and 2016, “among adolescents there was a 65 percent increase for girls” and “a 47 percent rise for boys” in diagnosed major depression.

Why? Why do so many young people struggle with feelings of hopelessness, of anxiety and fear?

This is a critical question, given the growing suicide rate among teens. “The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70 percent between 2006 and 2016,” according to a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher — 77 percent.”

The Mayo Clinic lists five possible causes of teen depression. Included are biological chemistry, hormonal imbalances, inherited traits, early childhood trauma, and learned patterns of negative thinking.

What They Have in Common

All of these things intersect. Sexual abuse, for example, alters neural pathways. In the same way, constantly telling ourselves negative things cuts a groove in the brain. When we place the needle of our minds into this kind of groove, it only cuts deeper and deeper.

There are many kinds of trauma. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, whether from within one’s family or from other adults or older children, can wreak havoc on a young one’s spiritual, psychological and intellectual well-being.

There’s also no question that kids today face enormous pressures. Social media is addictive and can be destructive, either through the cruelty of others or the social isolation it causes. The demand for excellence — academic, athletic, joining various clubs, etc. — has, for many, become less of an exhortation and more of a hammer. And various kinds of peer pressure push hard into the souls of millions of teens.

Dramatic Damage of Divorce

And then there’s divorce.

My friend Dr. Pat Fagan, a respected sociologist and the founder of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, describes divorce as a form of rejection: Parents reject one another and, by doing so, reject their children.

The rejection of their kids might not be intentional and, in most cases, is not. However, when parents choose not to live in union with one another, their children are devastated. The wounds they bear can fester well into adulthood.

Yes, some separations and even divorces might be needed. But whatever the cause, divorce does dramatic damage to its most vulnerable victims: Children.

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In research conducted with Aaron Churchill of the Fordham Institute and published in 2012, Dr. Fagan found that divorce “weakens children’s health and longevity. It also increases behavioral, emotional, and psychiatric risks, including even suicide.”

Fagan and Churchill also found that divorce also weakens children’s ability to handle conflict and fosters “coercive” (bullying) or “aversive” (fearful) social interaction.

Similarly, a 2005 study by Dr. Lisa Strohschein of the University of Alberta describes a “divorce-specific increase in anxiety/depression” among children.

Here’s the gut-punch: Only 47 of American youth reach the age of 17 in a home with both biological or adoptive parents. Putting it simply, children deserve better than divorce.

The Grace of Jesus Christ

For the present, there’s no doubt my teaching colleagues and I will have more students who come to class exhausted from not having slept due to anxiety. Who will be unable to complete assignments. Who will be hospitalized.

The good news is that the grace of Jesus Christ can bring hope to even the downcast and broken spirit. The Word of God, the right medicine and sound counsel, and the consistent love and support of family and friends can enable young souls to find rest. As we minister to a society where depression and anxiety only become more frequent, let us gird ourselves with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and speech “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).

And Jesus: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

 

To learn more about how to minister to the children of divorce, see Sandi Greene, “When Your Parents Divorce” (Focus on the Family) and “Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce” (Lifeway).

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  • Ray

    Let me guess, and say that they do not have a worship, prayer, and Bible study group after school, where they do all that together, perhaps led by a youth pastor, with speaking in tongues, interpretation, and prophecy, used for the edification of the group. The Holy Spirit is the best comforter, encourager, protector, and mentor there is.

  • Ray

    They need more good teachers like this who care.

  • Ray

    I uploaded a photo, and this box says comment can’t be blank.

    • Kaz

      You forgot to say, “Mother, may I?”

    • Paul

      No picts or links allowed in the comments, also some words will block your post as well.

  • Ray

    So what if in your school, there was a classroom, where about 15 minutes after the last class, if you were anywhere near, you would hear them singing joyous songs, something like, “Keep looking to the Lord, He’ll carry you through….He’ll take your gray skies, and turn them to blue….Keep lookin’ to the Lord, You’ll sing in the ni—ight, He’ll take your darkness….and give you light.”, and then somebody was asked to speak in tongues and interpret, or give a word of prophecy. and you heard the most edifying message by the leading of the Holy Spirit.?..and then they all prayed, and then started reading scripture together, and if anyone had a word of praise they just wanted to share from something they read, they could share it? Just a short word will often do.

  • Ray

    The manifestations of the Holy spirit reveal the Father’s heart to us. These kids need the opportunity to get to know their heavenly Father.

  • Michael Lee

    Am I correct to assume that by 47, you mean 47%?

    • Rob Schwarzwalder

      Yes. That error has been corrected.

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