By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
Emails, text messages and Facebook messages poured in minutes after I had posted a photo of myself and my daughter hanging out in the hammock, my new war;or tattoo on display with the semi colon replacing the i.
The messages weren’t about the tattoo but rather the meaning of the semicolon within it. A semicolon is used when an author could have ended a sentence with a period but didn't. The semicolon means to “continue.” It became a symbol of hope in the mental health community after Project Semi-colon launched.
It carries significant meeting to me due to battling depression most of my adult life because in early 2004, I nearly lost my life to suicide. The subject of mental health in the Christian community seems to be taboo because many are under the assumption you can “just pray depression away.” However, this is unfortunately not the case for most situations--which is one of the many reasons about Project Semi-Colon became a bluegrass movement.
In 2013, Amy Bleuel started the faith-based nonprofit movement that is dedicated to "presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury," according to its website. According to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. It is currently the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. Research also found more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.Photo Credit: ©Pixabay-SplitShire
Starting the Conversation
Despite the rising awareness about mental health, parents aren’t sure how to start the conversation with their teens or they may feel like it’s a non-issue. Recently, I had a conversation with a parent while waiting to pick up our teens from school. I had mentioned I was taking my daughter to counseling. She surprised me when she said, “My daughter doesn’t need a counselor. She has me to talk to.” Although that may be absolutely true in some cases, considering the above statistics, it’s best not to assume that your teen considers that support sufficient without asking them first.
Parents find themselves in one of three camps: I don’t know how to start a conversation, we don’t need to have the conversation, or my kids can talk to me. If you find yourself in one of these camps, the tips below will equip you to open the door to start conversations with your teens—without getting ink.
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What Does the Bible Say About Mental Health?
Those suffering from depression can experience intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, fatigue, feeling useless, and a variety of other symptoms. Depression is often triggered by life circumstances, psychological problems such as low self-esteem or abuse.
Contrary to what some Christians believe, depression can sometimes be caused by a physical disorder than needs to be treated with medication/and or Biblical counseling. It’s vital to remember God is able to cure any disease or disorder, however in some cases seeing a doctor for depression or other mental health issues is no different than seeing a doctor for the flu or a broken arm.
Proverbs 12:25 mentions depression directly, "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad" (NKJV). That's a good place to begin because this scripture indicates God is aware how our mental health affects our human nature and most importantly it has spiritual components.
When talking to our teens about mental health, it’s imperative to remember the Bible tells us to be filled with joy and praise (Philippians 4:4; Romans 15:11). God intends for us all to live joyful lives. No matter the situation, help your teen stay in God’s Word because God knows what they’re going through.
It’s not an easy subject but it is one God knew about. The Bible is filled with dozens of scriptures about mental health. Philippians 4: 6-7, 1 Peter 5:7, John 14:27, Isaiah 43:1-4. Jonah 2:5-7, Isaiah 41:10 are just a few examples.
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How to Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health
When talking to your teen about mental health, you will want to consider where she is developmentally. Also, consider setting aside time where there is no pressure or agenda. If possible, use personal examples. Sharing your own personal journey with mental health also helps your teen realize that while her journey may be different than yours, there is common ground.
Clear up the myths about mental health. It’s not taboo to talk about it, nor is it worse than a physical injury. Jesus himself was well acquainted with mental anguish when he spoke the words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” (NLT).
Explaining to your teen that God understands mental health and then comparing depression to another illness will take away the stigma of mental health and open the door for honest conversations. For example: “Depression is similar to other illnesses like the common cold or flu. It not only makes you feel tired and lack energy but it can also make you feel lonely, hopeless, scared or angry. What questions do you have about mental health or depression?”
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Ways to Help Your Teen Develop Mental Health Habits and Support
While bringing up the subject of mental health may feel awkward, the more you make an effort, the more natural it feels. Keep communication constant, open and honest. If you have a history like I did, be open about it with your teens. Help them develop healthy habits too. Of course, it’s best to set the example but you can also create healthy habits together. Here are the following tips to help your teen set healthy habits:
- Step away from the screens.
- Getting outside and spending time in nature is important for mental health. Help your teen develop a strategy to step away from the iPhone, computer, television, etc. Encourage them to spend time with friends and family outdoors.
- Take care of their spirit.
- Encourage them to develop healthy spiritual habits of being in the Word every day. Whether it’s a Bible App, a devotion, a plan to read through the Bible in a year or reading topical studies about anxiety, ensure they carve out time with God. Other ideas could be using the S.O.A.P. method to study God’s word or get a journaling Bible. Consider doing something together.
- Take care of their physical body.
- Encourage your teen to create a routine of rest and exercise. Sleep and exercise are vital to anyone’s mental health. Encourage to them to treat their body with care.
- Look for one person besides their parents they can trust.
- Build a network of support.
- Ask your teen if she has a safety plan. A safety plan consists of knowing she has another adult she can talk to if she feels depressed or suicidal. Does she have additional friends, teachers or a counselor she can talk to? Is there someone she can pray with? Remind her communication and support go a long way in keeping her safe and healthy.
- Find ways to manage stress.
- Too much screen time, social media, work, schoolwork and responsibilities can overwhelm a teen. Encourage them to find ways to relieve stress. It could be joining a sports team, journaling, deep breathing, etc.
The courage to start this conversation with your teen will reap fruits of hope and peace for their entire lives!
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone). She writes to bring through bold truths and raw faith about marriage, career, mental health, depression, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com.
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