Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Keys to Battling Teen Depression

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: As a teenager, David Murray found himself miserable after walking away from what he had been taught about the faith.

Dr. David Murray: What I thought would have given me tremendous happiness and pleasure and joy actually was plunging me into anxiety and depression. It was only when I was pointed to Christ that that really began to lift, and I knew a peace and a joy that I didn’t think was possible in this world.

Nancy: A teen’s heart can be full of turmoil, but we’ll hear where that peace and joy come from today on the Revive Our Hearts podcast for July 19, 2021. I’m Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Words like depression and anxiety have worked their way into our vocabulary a whole lot more frequently, especially in recent years. Not only have we seen these become a major issue for our world in general, but specifically for teenagers.

How can we combat this problem that’s showing up more and more severely in the younger generations? Drs. David and Shona Murray are dear friends of Revive Our Hearts. David is a pastor, a biblical counselor, he’s an author and a speaker. And his wife Shona is a medical doctor as well as an author.

Today, David and Shona are joining Dannah Gresh to talk about this epidemic among teenagers. Now, if you love a teen who’s depressed or anxious, you’ll want to be sure to listen today. And don’t forget, you can always review it later or read the transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com or through the Revive Our Hearts app.

And, Lord, this is such a serious issue today. We’re all thinking of someone we know who’s being taken down by the enemy and whose mind and emotions are being given over to depression and anxiety. So I pray that You would use today’s program to bring a measure of grace and healing and perspective and hope. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now, let’s listen to this conversation with Dannah Gresh and David and Shona Murray.

Dannah Gresh: Today we’re talking about a topic that’s so important and near and dear to my heart. For over two decades I’ve been ministering to teens and tweens. It’s a new thing for me to be able to minister to women alongside my friend Nancy.

But as I’ve been ministering to them, I have watched as depression and anxiety have become a bigger and bigger problem—and I’m not just talking about mainstream kids. I’m talking about kids in our churches. In November of 2019, I read multiple articles forecasting a coming epidemic in suicide.

And here we are, almost eighteen months later, and the headlines about depression and anxiety and suicide are just simply alarming. They should be a wake-up call for every woman. Every mother, every grandmother needs to hear what we’re going to talk to about today.

David, let me ask you this: How bad is the problem?

Dr. David: You’re right, Dannah. The problem has been growing for about ten to fifteen years, but the last two years, even pre-COVID, has seen a tremendously bad increase, and COVID has only made things worse. It was getting to epidemic levels, and it does seem to be rising to that and beyond it. Some of the percentages are really quite frightening.

I read just last week that they reckoned about 50% of teens have experienced anxiety and depression in the last year.

Dannah: Well, that certainly has been true of the teens that I know. And what’s frightening to me is that until the last few years, I only read about suicide in the news. I never heard about it through the grapevine of people that I knew—families that I love experiencing it. It’s getting closer and closer to home. And, of course, anxiety and depression are the two things that are really leading to that crisis.

I want to ask this question: Why do I always hear anxiety and depression in the same breath, written about in the same article?

Dr. David: I think the research shows that both anxiety and depression are related to the same part of the brain. So if this part of the brain goes wrong, it’s very common for depression and anxiety to come together. It’s not like it’s two different parts. It’s all in the one part.

I think, secondly, if you think about anxiety as an over-rating of the brain, the brain ends up in hyperactivity. Like using any machine, you do that for too long, eventually it’s going to get exhausted and collapse. And that tends to be more what happens with anxiety. The brain just eventually gets exhausted, and it leads, then, to depression.

And then it goes the other way, too. You have people or kids who have depression, and then they get worried, “Am I ever going to get better? Is the future always going to look so bleak?” And that creates fears and anxieties.

There’s a psychological element to it, too, and there’s a physical element to it. It’s just, really, a perfect storm that comes together. I think the stats are something like 50% of teens who have depression also have anxiety.

Dannah: And you, of course, both are incredible experts. I like to say you have letters before your name and after your name.

David, you’re a PhD. And Shona, you’re an M.D. But I want to talk before we get into your expertise in this area about your personal story. Take me to your teens, your twenties. You know something about this teen anxiety and depression, don’t you, David?

Dr. David: Yes. Although, when I was a teen, I didn’t recognize it as such. It was only, really, in much later years, looking back, I began to understand what was happening, or what had been happening to me in my teens.

In the book I feature eighteen teens with their own different stories, and I’m one of them. I wanted young people to know I’m not perfect. This did not go smoothly for me. And definitely, looking back, I can see where in my teens, a period of depression/anxiety that was, in my case, spiritual.

I walked away from all that I had been taught in a Christian home by my Christian parents and lived a very rebellious life in my late teens, early twenties. And yet, I would say, I was increasingly miserable and sad. And realizing more and more I was not in a good place, and if I died . . . I still believed the Bible. It tells me I would go to Hell because I didn’t have a Savior.

And so many nights, even after being out with friends and sinning, I would come back really scared and anxious about my spiritual condition and whether God would strike me dead, really. I have to be honest that these were my thoughts. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, I would say I was sinking every weekend deeper and deeper into this darkness—the darkness of sin, the darkness of guilt, the darkness of fear.

What I thought would have given me tremendous happiness and pleasure and joy actually was plunging me into anxiety and depression.

Dannah: The more you sinned, the more you rebelled, the greater the anxiety and the depression in your life.

Dr. David: Yes. It was the opposite of what the world promised me.

I sometimes say, without any pride, that God gave me a crash-course in worldliness. In a very few short years, He gave me all that I wanted—all that the world promised me would bring me joy and happiness and satisfaction, and it was the exact opposite. The more I plunged into it, the deeper the darkness, the greater the anxiety.

It was just a miserable way to live, and not just on the weekends. It was just through each day, knowing I was not right with God, knowing God was angry with me, knowing that He could take me at any moment, and some of my friends did die. I knew where I was going, and it wasn’t to the light.

It was only when I was pointed to Christ and given faith in Christ in my early twenties that that really began to lift. I knew a peace and a joy that I didn’t think was possible in this world.

Now, in my case, that depression/anxiety was, I would say, spiritual. That doesn’t mean everyone’s is. There are different causes, but I think it’s something we must not rule out when we’re talking with our teens. Do they have spiritual anxieties about their soul, about their relationship to God, their lifestyles.

I think a lot of kids, especially boys, I’ve noticed pornography use. It can be a huge depressor and anxiety multiplier. A question I would always ask a teen is, What is your use of pornography? (Not, “Are you using it?” but “What is your use of it?” because I’m afraid I just assume that’s happening.)

So we’ve got to be honest. We’ve got to explore all the possible causes.

Dannah: When you share that, I can’t help but think of Genesis 4 where God comes to Cain. It says in chapter 5, verse 4, that Cain wasn’t bringing the correct offering to God, and he was very angry, and his face fell.

And then verse 6 says, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why has your face fallen?’”

Having friends who are deeply acquainted with depression, one of the things they tell me often is, “It just feels like my face is heavy, like the skin on my face is heavy.”

And so I read this, and I thought, “He’s angry, and he’s depressed.”

And the Lord says, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

I feel like your life is that testimony.

Dr. David: Yes. It is. And it really is summed up in Ecclesiastes as well. I was just reading chapters 1 and 2 of Ecclesiastes recently. There’s Solomon going after the world with all his might, and he’s plunging into the pursuit of pleasure and education and food and work and sin. And what’s his conclusion? “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” It’s just emptiness and anxiety. It’s depression and anxiety. Basically, that’s what he’s saying.

I look back on it now, I see it as a mercy, because what if I had been given all I wanted, and I was really happy? I wouldn’t have turned to the Lord for mercy. And I think, again, that’s one of the things I often talk to kids about (and not just kids). “God’s allowed you to have depression and anxiety. It can be a huge mercy because He’s saving you from a life that is lived apart from Him and then eternity apart from Him.

To put up with some months of depression and anxiety, if it turns us around to God, then that’s worth it. It’s a pain worth suffering. And, of course, again, just to reiterate, we’re not seeing all depression as spiritual. Mine was then, but it can be, and we should probe it and explore that so that we don’t just rush to solutions that won’t, really, in the long term work.

Dannah: Right. We’re discussing the keys to overcoming anxiety and depression today. And the first key that we’ve come to is this: Christ. And that might sound like the right Christian answer, the perfect Sunday school answer, but it’s so true.

If you’re listening, and you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, surrender. It might not be the only solution you need. There may be other things, and we’re going to talk about them today and tomorrow. But you need Jesus. That’s where you start.

Shona, I want to bring you into the conversation as an M.D. David said many times that not all depression is because of sin in our lives. What are some of the other causes of depression?

Dr. Shona Murray: There are multiple causes of depression, and it varies a little bit between men and women.

  • It can be constitutional. You’ve inherited that genetically from family, parents.
  • It can be through losses, bereavement.
  • It can be through accidents.
  • It can be through loss of health.
  • It can be through financial loss.
  • It can also be personality, in a perfectionist trait, where you want to do the best and strive for the best in every area of your life. And we’re not long on this earth when we realize that’s not possible.
  • It can be related to a desire to please people. And, again, that’s not attainable all the time.
  • I think, too, especially for teens, there’s social pressures that are on them, and that especially involves academic expectations, sporting expectations, peer expectations in terms of looks, appearance, dress, and all that comes with social media that feeds into that as well.

Dannah: Yes. Let’s pause there for just a second. I don’t want to pass too quickly by social media because the charts I see can only be described as hockey-stick growth that goes back to the advent of the first smart phone and the beginning of social media.

Anytime you see growth like that, that’s not gradual, you have to say, “Something happened that triggered this.” And I really believe—it’s not the only factor—that screen use and social media is one of the greatest contributing factors to this epidemic that our teens are facing right now. Do you agree with that?

Dr. Shona: I do. If you look at teen suicide rates, they doubled for young girls between fifteen and nineteen. If you look at 2007 to 2015, teen suicide rates among these girls doubled. It increased by 70% for U.S. youth between ages ten and seventeen.

The thing that stands out most dramatically, among other things, like social breakdown, family breakdown, etc., is the advent of the iPhone or smart phone, and it’s increasing accessibility to younger and younger teens in the 2010–11 and upwards.

Dannah: Yes. We’re starting to really see at my True Girl ministry . . . You know I minister to seven- to twelve-year-old girls. We’re getting letters more and more every day from moms who say their daughters, who are nine, ten, eleven years old, are struggling with anxiety and depression. And eleven- and twelve-year-olds are really struggling.

Dr. Shona: Right. And that also coincides with puberty in girls and puberty coming into younger and younger age as well. There’s a lot going on at that time of life.

When you bring in the social media component and the constant connection ability, and that sense of being in a boiling cauldron of pressure to be like everybody else and to have what everybody else has and to get the likes and the discouragement when you don’t get the likes that you thought you would get; that brings a huge weight of pressure on these young girls.

Dannah: Yes, it does.

My brain right now is searching its Rolodex of Scripture to speak to that mom or that grandma who’s on the fence. Because letters that come to me are basically, “All my daughter’s friends are on social media. She’s only twelve. I don’t think she’s supposed to be on there yet, but what do I do?”

I can give her practical advice. I can give her understanding, which is important. Understanding these factors that contribute to anxiety/depression is actually one of the keys that helps us overcome it. Right?

But help me with the Rolodex here. Can either of you think scripturally, how do you sit down with that kid? What do you say to that twelve-year-old who wants social media, and you don’t think she should. Or that sixteen-year-old who’s logging nine or ten hours a day on her screen?

Dr. David: Well, obviously, there is no verse that speaks directly to social media, but I would say it’s a direct implication of the many verses which command parents to bring up their children for the Lord and care for them as stewards of not just their bodies, but their minds and their hearts. Therefore, the command that parents are given, it’s not an option, it’s an obligation. It extends to protecting their psychological welfare.

I think if you were to ask any parent, “Would you like your child to have depression and anxiety?”

I think every parent would say, “Of course not! It’s the last thing I want for them to have.”

And then you’ll say, “Well, why give them a mental health destroyer?”

Because that’s what the iPhone, Android, and all smart phones, that’s what they basically are. Not the phone aspect of it, obviously, but the constant messaging, the Instagram, the comparison. All of these things are guaranteed mental health destroyers.

I’m not saying it will send everyone into the same depths, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t expose our children to some of it at a certain age, of course not. They have to be trained. But, at age twelve? It’s just way too young to put that into their hands without really extra safeguards that will protect them.

So I think that general scriptural injunction for parents to bring up their children for the Lord and to be stewards as whole people, not just protecting them from immorality and things like that, and drugs, but from this mental and emotional assault.

Dannah: Yes. I thought of one. (My Rolodex was clicking that whole time.) I loved what you said, and I’m so happy you said guaranteed, because here’s what came to my mind:

First Peter 5:8 calls us to be sober-minded and watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone whom he may devour.

I don’t think I’m sober-minded when I have become consumed by my screen. Now, I have days where I use my screen wisely, and I use it well. And I am sober-minded and controlled by the Spirit. But I really do think this is a battle of the mind.

When we have teen girls spending over nine hours a day on their screen, and their brains are . . . I’ve taken teen girls out into retreat centers in the woods where I didn’t know they were going to lose WiFi, but they did. And they burst into fits of tearful rage because they were disconnected from their phones. That is not a sober mind.

Dr. Shona: God also asks us to think on what is good and pure and true, to think of these things. He promises us peace when we do that. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of what we’re exposed to on social media is not necessarily true. It’s certainly not peace inducing. The majority of it is very negative. And for ourselves as well as our teen kids.

So it’s something that I think would help our kids if we did this together. It’s not, “Don’t you spend so much time on your phone,” but I must not spend that amount of time on my phone either.

We would have to recognize that we’re in this battle together. It’s not them. It’s all of us.

Dannah: I like that. We are in this battle together. In fact, it’s a thick one. So we need more advice from both of you. I have so many questions rolling around in my head.

I have questions about medicine. Is it okay? What does the Bible tell us about it?

I have questions about those thoughts, David, that you were talking about earlier, how they roll around in our head. They just stay there, and they won’t go away. And they become toxic. What do we practically do to handle those thoughts, those false thoughts, those anxious thoughts?

I have questions. Will you come back tomorrow to answer them?

Dr. David: Yes. And hopefully our Rolodexes will be working better as well. (laughter)

Dannah: Well, I think they were working just fine today. I’ve learned much. Thanks for being with us. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Dr. David: Thanks, Dannah.

Dr. Shona: Thank you.

Nancy: Wow! This topic of teens and depression is so vital for us to be talking about. I’m seeing it with so many of my friends and their kids, and they’re really wanting gospel help for these challenges.

Dannah Gresh has been talking with Drs. David and Shona Murray. They’ve been helping us understand some of the causes of depression in teenagers and why it’s such a problem.

Maybe you’re the parent of a teen, or you know someone else’s teen who’s struggling with depression. David has written a book called, Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?: A Guide for Helping Teens through Anxiety and Depression.” It’s getting down to root causes of depression. This book is designed to help you deal with this challenge in biblical, practical ways.

Or maybe you’re a teen yourself who’s battling depression right now. I want to encourage you to check out Dr. Murray’s book, Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression. In this book, he’ll show you how you can get off the roller coaster of out-of-control emotions.

You’ll find links to both of these books, the one for parents, and the one for teens, in the transcript of today’s episode atReviveOurHearts.com.

You know, Dannah, sometimes we hear from teens or parents who are in the throes of depression and mental health challenges, and it’s our privilege to pray for each of those who write to us. I love hearing from those who share about their journey and how the Lord is helping them overcome these kinds of struggles.

Dannah: Yes, Nancy, it’s not infrequent that we receive prayer requests just like this one—let me read it to you:

Please pray that the Lord would heal me of my anxiety and O.C.D. and that He would strengthen my relationship with Him.

And, as you said, our team loves praying for these requests, and they’re praying for this young lady.

Just as we heard today, the pandemic has really heightened the problem of depression. Last summer one woman posted this comment on our Lies Young Women Believe blog:

I really miss going to church and babysitting, and since we moved almost two years ago, I’m still battling with loneliness and missing my bffs. And now it’s even worse because I can’t even see the few new friends I’ve made in my new home.

Of course, she’s writing this last summer at the height of shutdown.

Sometimes I feel like things are never going to look up. Like they’re never going to get better. But you’ve encouraged me to be positive and to thank God for the things I do have: a family, a roof over my head, food, and health.

Nancy: That’s so sweet. And remembering God’s blessings is a great way to fight depression.

Dannah: Yes.

Nancy: It’s a great tool—the power of gratitude. Right?

Dannah: Yes. Exactly.

Nancy: Well, another young woman wrote us to say,

Over the last few days I’ve unknowingly let fear into my heart from various circumstances throughout the course of this weekend. As I begin this week, I needed this reminder: I can rest in Jesus’ peace, no matter the time, the place, or the reason. Thank you for such a promising reminder.

And thank you, dear friend, for sharing with us.

You know, we bring you this program and other resources to encourage you with the truth and the hope found in Christ. And this ministry is made possible by friends like you who support Revive Our Hearts financially and through their prayers.

Dannah: Yes. And this month when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, you’ll receive a copy of Nancy’s booklet, A Deeper Kind of Kindness.

As it was obvious from our conversation today, our hurting world needs more kindness. Don’t you think? This booklet will help you put your kindness on display so that those around you will see the beauty of Christ.

Visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation, or call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for Nancy’s booklet on kindness.

Nancy: Thank you, Dannah. And tomorrow David and Shona Murray will continue their conversation with Dannah. They’ll let parents know how to look for signs of depression and anxiety in their teens. I hope you’ll join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts wants to help you experience the peace that comes from Christ. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Host

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Guest

David and Shona Murray

David and Shona Murray

David Murray (PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also a counselor, a regular speaker at conferences, and the author of Exploring the Bible. David and his wife, Shona, attend Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.

Shona Murray is a mother of five children and has homeschooled for fifteen years. She is a medical doctor and worked as a family practitioner in Scotland until she moved to the United States with her husband, David. She is the author of Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.