Young people, depression and the Church

So I’m with my friends on Skype the other night and two of them are talking about how bad their lives are and how close they are to just saying “Y’know what, I’m done with all this”. Now, this isn’t really new to me, as I’ve heard them saying this stuff before, but this time they really sounded like they meant it. Add to this the fact that I often hear them saying this stuff for weeks on end, and it really is a worrying concept. I love my friends, I don’t want to lose them; they’ve got so much to live for. But it has helped me to realise just how big an issue depression is, and why we shouldn’t be tempted to take it lightly.

All too often, the temptation is to write this sort of thing off as kids ‘attention-whoring’ and trying to get Facebook likes, when there’s really nothing wrong with them. But there are a couple of things wrong with this attitude. First, this stuff has affected people all throughout history (check Ecclesiastes) and of all ages, particularly older people who have just become widows or widowers. Secondly, people have actually taken their lives as a result of this. Saying that it’s ‘not real’ and doesn’t actually affect anyone is an indictment on those whose lives have been affected by it, either directly or through family or friends.

You’d think the natural position for the Church to take would be the ‘accepting’ one, opening its doors to those who desperately need somewhere to belong, but sadly there have been times when these people have felt repressed and shut out by God’s so-called people, either through their apparent apathy or their outright pushing people away. It honestly makes me feel so bad to hear when this kind of thing happens, and then hear people’s responses decrying the Church
for its apparently hard stance, because it makes these people feel like they really do have nowhere to go. For a group that is supposed to advocate acceptance, compassion and the like, it doesn’t reflect well at all.

So what should we do? Of course, the most obvious response to all this would be to just fling the church doors wide and say “Come on in guys, we’re right here for you!” That’s great, but there’s also a place for more practical action. If they have problems that need sorting out first, then that should take priority. Talk to them. Get right to the heart of what their problems are. Phone up some kind of helpline to give advice if we don’t have any to give personally. Let them know they are not alone.

If they’re open to hearing from the Christian perspective, go ahead and tell them that they have a loving Father who wants nothing more than to be there for them, and who would (and did) go to great lengths for them. But if not, then don’t push it. Remember how in the book of Job (specifically, chapters 18-19 and 25-26), when Eliphaz and Bildad are trying their best to share God with Job, they overlook his basic need for someone to just be there with him, and Job ends up rebuking them for their apparently cold attitudes towards him. They might have thought they were doing the best for him, but it seems like they may have been missing the mark by quite a bit. Let’s not make their mistake. Certainly, there is a place for good, Scripture-guided teaching, but I’m not totally sure it’s when people are feeling as broken as this. The last thing we want to do is push these guys away, especially when we think we’re trying to help them.

Ultimately, I guess the main way to go is to picture how we’d want people, particularly the Church, to treat us if we were in these kinds of situations. Think of it in the same way as you’d think of an addiction – is it better to say “Chin up dude, you can beat it!” or “I understand man, it’s hard to quit. But here are a few ideas…”? Think of the repercussions our words and actions would have, both on us and on those we’re talking to – because in the end, those are what stick with us the most.

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