Depression is a challenging topic to address in any youth ministry.
It is important to remember that many of your students are likely, at some point in their lives, to struggle with depression in some form or another.
However, there are still many misconceptions about depression.
In fact, odds are that many of you reading and preparing to teach this lesson struggle with depression, and there is one thing that you need to know: you are not alone.
Depression is not a sign of weakness or of lack of faith.
It is a very important reminder to each of us that we are human and for many amazing Christians throughout the centuries, depression has been a struggle.
Yet, we as leaders must be the first to 1). Know the signs of depression and 2). Know when we or others need professional health.
For some of you, this lesson is might be a holy nudge that you need to spend some time taking care of your soul, your body, and your heart.
Youth group time, of course, is not the time to nurse these wounds and is definitely not meant to be a ‘therapy session’ for the leader.
But spend time this week in prayer, doing some real soul searching and evaluating if you indeed sense that you are depressed.
Next, spend time praying for the students in your youth group, as it is very likely that there are youth in your group who are depressed.
Again, this time is not a time for therapy, but rather a time for them to learn some ways that they can share their heart with God.
One of the beautiful things, and yet maddening at times, about teenagers is that they often feel things very strongly.
It is important to remember that though their ‘issues’ or feelings might seem trivial to us as adults, they are feeling them and we must recognize that.
It is a holy thing for a teenager to share how they truly feel and nothing throws cold water on their bravery than being told that their emotions, or feelings, are not valid.
In fact, try to remember a time when you were a teenager and your feelings were dismissed…it’s a hard thing.
It is also important to guard against what I call the ‘drama trap’ – in which you open the conversation about feelings and suddenly the tidal wave opens!
Oh, how many youth lock-ins have been derailed by the infamous cry fest!
As you can see, it is a juggle to discern how best to respond, but the best advice is to respond with grace.
It is important to sense where your group is at in regards to the stage of life that they are in.
For example, for some middle schoolers, depression might be a bit heavy for them, but they can identify with being sad or disappointed.
It is tough to paint any group with a single brush, though, as many students have endured pain that many adults cannot fathom.
Again, it requires discernment, grace, and wisdom as a leader to navigate these discussions.
It might also be an important time in which you open their eyes to the fact that they need further help, which is not something to be ashamed of, but is actually a sign of great strength to know when help is needed.
Anytime that depression is addressed, it is also important to remember to be very aware that if a youth in the group shares that they are having suicidal thoughts, this is very serious and it is important that you seek help.
Encourage students to share their feelings with their parents and a pastor.
Though youth ministers do a great deal of counseling, it is important to remember that most of us are not counselors and to know when we have reached our limits.
For more information about teenage depression, go here.
Youth Group Lesson on Depression
Bottom Line: God is with us no matter how we feel and He cares. No judgement.
Bible: Psalm 40, The Message
Poster board for each youth
Magazines of many different types
Psalm 40 from the Message printed for each youth
OPENING ACTIVITY: Feelings Board
Say: Each of you are going to create what I would call a ‘Feelings Board’.
Today, we are going to tackle a deep topic and you will help us to start the conversation by making these feelings boards.
Here’s what I want you to try to describe with pictures: Depression.
(Leader note: The tone in which groups go about this activity might vary from age groups to how comfortable they feel. Some might go the humor route, which shouldn’t’ be immediately discounted… you can learn a great deal from teenage humor. The thing to try to avoid is any mocking or belittling about depression.)
Give the students 10-15 minutes to make their boards and then to present them IF THEY WANT. Display the boards around the room to reference throughout the lesson.
After the activity, ask:
Which of the images on the posters do you think help to describe what depression must feel like?
Why do you think that so many people are depressed?
Depression is a tough topic, but one that can’t be ignored.
In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17, in the United States, had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population ages 12 to 17 (from NIMH).
But let me ask you this: How many of you have not felt ‘down’ or sad at all this past year?
I bet if we are honest… not one of us could say that we haven’t ever had a down moment.
You know what that means?
WE ARE HUMAN!
Have any of you seen the movie Inside Out?
Basically, it is a movie that presents a creative way to explain emotions to kids.
There is Fear, Greed, Anger, Sadness, and Joy.
It is a huge surprise to everyone in the movie to realize that sometimes joy and sadness can go together, or that you can be ‘Sad Mad’.
This movie really brings home the important reminder that our emotions are not bad.
We are human and God made us to feel strong emotions.
Just think about this past week for you: How many different emotions did you feel?
Share about a time in the past few weeks in which you felt strong emotions (a funny example might be a good reprieve at this point in the lesson!)
God created us to feel emotions.
The Bible might not use the exact word ‘depression,’ but it uses words like “downcast,” “brokenhearted,” “troubled,” “miserable,” “despairing,” and “mourning,” among others.
I think those will fit for depression, don’t you?
The Bible also tells about amazing men and women of God who truly struggled.
Even Jesus expressed how deeply he hurt for others. He felt betrayed.
He felt sad.
He felt disappointed.
He felt lonely.
And He is God.
I hope this helps you to see is that God is going to be the last person to judge you for feeling down because He knows and He created us to feel deeply.
King David, you know the kid-wonder who killed a giant with some rocks and was the most amazing King of all time for the Israelites?
David, the one who was called ‘the man after God’s heart’… do you think he struggled with feeling down?
Give each youth a copy of Psalm 40 as you read it outloud.
David wrote songs and prayers, which expressed a wide range of emotions.
Some are full of joy… some are filled with raw words.
What are some of the words that David prayed that stuck out to you?
It is interesting that in this Psalm, David seems to go back and forth from feeling very down… to then reminding himself that God is with him.
This is a really important thing to remember: It is ok to feel and to feel deeply.
And there might be days when you feel like nobody cares or hears or understands.
But if you leave this place knowing one thing, it needs to be this: God cares deeply about you and your feelings.
I want you to read Psalm 40 again and underline any of the lines that bring you comfort.
Give the youth a few minutes to read again.
These are the words that you need to remind yourself of when you find yourself in a place where you feel alone.
Because we all will be there at some point in our lives.
But know this: God is with you and He cares.
Close in prayer.
SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Which emotion do you struggle with the most from the movie Inside Out: fear, greed, anger, joy or sadness?
How does it make you feel to know that Jesus felt the same emotions that we do?
Share a line from Psalm 40 that you want to remember that brings you comfort?
Which line in Psalm 40 surprised you that David felt that way?