By Keith Wommack — Adult depression is a significant problem, a problem that is being widely acknowledged. Adolescent depression is also being studied closely, as more and more children appear to show signs of despair.
Although parents may not be able to determine whether a child is merely going through a short-term behavioral phase or whether the child is experiencing depression, there is a consensus that children should be helped, and quickly.
The National Institute of Mental Health is educating the public. The Institute’s website explains, “The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood.”
Beneficial studies show that, perhaps, a surprising correlation exists that can be helpful to those suffering.
On November 16, The Spirituality of Hope and Healing: Seeking the Sacred in the Midst of Despair was the theme for the 22nd Annual Psychotherapy and Faith Conference hosted by the Institute of Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.
One of the speakers, Lisa Miller, PhD, presented her talk Spirituality Protects Against Recurrence of Depression: Science at Multiple Levels of Analysis.
Dr. Miller is Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College, where she founded and directs the Spirituality Mind Body Institute. She is also the Associate Editor of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality and Co-Founder and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the new journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.
During her presentation, Miller shared that a ten-year study on religiosity and major depression revealed that despair was often correlated with spiritual awakening. She mentioned that those on spiritual quests sound very similar to those suffering with depression.
“Suffering,” Miller said, “is a direct porthole to spiritual awakening. Spirituality and depression are essentially one journey. And those who experience spiritual awakenings are ninety percent less likely to suffer depression again.”
Dr. Miller spoke in Houston of the neuro-correlates of spirituality. She mentioned studies that showed how spirituality improved brain functions. She also shared that the brain patterns of study participants who had symptoms of depression showed similar activity between those given Prozac and those utilizing forms of spirituality.
Miller also explained that girls’ outward signs of puberty grew in sync with their becoming more aware of the sacred. Spirituality and depression co-emerged.
Miller then asked conference attendees how they could help adolescents with developmental depression. And she answered for them, “We must support their spiritual emergence. Their quest must be taken seriously.”
During the presentation, Dr. Miller explained that an adolescent’s spirituality emerges first with close relationships.
Miller explained the importance of adolescents having a spiritual guide, someone to help them through the coming of age process. The child turns to a guide to form a map, the meaning of life.
Whether the guide is a parent or not, the crucial element in this help is love. Miller shared, “The taste of love is more powerful than anything said. Encouragement, not measurement; love instead of judgment is needed.”
Again, Miller told attendees that an adolescent’s spirituality emerges first with a close relationship. These relationships may be formed with another person, with nature, or directly with their Deity.
I have always felt that children yearn for a close relationship with the divine. They do so because they are, first and foremost, spiritual beings. And the divine source of love reveals itself to each child in ways that the child can feel and understand.
Dr. Miller provided several case-study writings by adolescents.
19 year-old Lamar, wrote, “I love about my moms, no matter what, she always wanted to help me. Wow. She be bustin’ her butt, working night shift…come home, and she still take care of me, even though practically I’m a grown man. But I’m still with my moms, and still under her roof, respecting her, and abiding by her rules. But she always wanted to help me. Always. That’s great. Always.”
Perhaps, it could be said that Lamar’s spiritual experience and unity with the divine was expressed as the love and dedication of his mother’s selfless giving.
Another teenager wrote, “I get up at 5am to go surfing. Watch the sun rise. I feel of the water and stuff like the power of the waves. And knowing that you’re somewhat taming the waves when you’re like riding it and it wasn’t meant…I don’t know if it was…but like it wasn’t purposely…you riding the waves. And…you have to get in the flow of the wave and it’s like fluidity and rhythm and stuff like that, which is fun. It makes you like you’re a part of the wave. It’s a natural flow.”
Lamar’s relationship with the divine was through his mother. This teenager’s connection was through his appreciation of nature. His feeling of oneness through the power, rhythm, and flow of the waves, possibly, awakened within him a larger sense of existence than what mortality could present.
Dr. Miller’s presentation prompted me to ask myself, “Why do those on spiritual quests sound similar to those suffering with depression?”
Perhaps, pain causes the sufferer to try to burst from a mortal sense of things. It causes the depressed to stop identifying with human restrictions that lead only to further fear, unfulfilled desires, and more pain.
Those in despair and those on a quest are alike. Both struggle to shed limitations. Each is frustrated by an inability to experience what they innately, although, subconsciously, feel is their unconfined being.
There is a divine influence that speaks to the suffering, the abandoned, to heal and empower them. It is inside them, yet limitless in nature. For many, this capacity to have an effect on the development and behavior of mind and body is known as the Christ. However, it’s health benefits help every member of society, not just those who consider themselves to be Christian.
The spiritual naturally want to be spiritually healthy and free. And spirituality is the real essence of each one’s being.
– Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com