Depression in Girls’ Ministry
Common factors, clinical solutions, and wisdom from God’s Word
by Deandra Comer, MA
Depression: What is it, exactly?
Major Depressive Disorder, more commonly referred to as depression, is a very common, but serious mood disorder. The DSM-5 notes that those who suffer with depression experience persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and loss of interest in things or activities that they once enjoyed. Depression usually presents as an emotional problem, but can also have physical symptoms, such as digestive issues and chronic pain. To be diagnosed, symptoms must be persistent for at least two weeks (Ciccarelli, & White, 2014). A study in Pediatrics reports a significant increase in the prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder among teenagers. This increase is specifically strongest among teenage girls. This is particularly alarming in a time when suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens ages 15-19 (Glowonski, 2016).
In most translations of the Bible, the word “depression” is not specifically used, but the symptoms are prevalent.
Although depression rates among adolescents continues to increase, depression is nothing new. In most translations of the Bible, the word “depression” is not specifically used, but the symptoms are prevalent. In fact, throughout many of the Psalms, David writes of his loneliness, anguish, fear of the enemy, guilt and heartbreak over sin. In 1st Kings, Elijah was scared, ran for his life, and was even suicidal. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah wrestled with insecurity, loneliness, and great defeat. The same God who pulled these men out of their dark pit is the same God who fights against the battle of depression today. The focus of this article is teenage girls who struggle with depression, some of their risk factors for depression, and how to help them cope and overcome the battle.
Risk factors for depression in teenage girls
No teenage girl is immune from developing depression, but there are some risk factors that make some girls at a higher risk for developing the mood disorder than others:
Mother with depression • Excessive weight • Social struggles • Sexual activity • Interpersonal stress • Experiential avoidance • Absence of biological father
- Children with a mother who has Major Depressive Disorder are three times more likely to develop some psychopathology, most often depression, during adolescence (Mellick, 2017).
- Excessive weight is a risk factor for adolescent girls to develop depression. Often obesity leads to low self esteem and poor body image. These factors increase vulnerability to the mood disorder. Sedentary activity and poor eating habits play a role in obesity, which also can be contributors to depression (Mannan, 2016).
- It is well known that depression follows struggles in social relationships. Low social support, low popularity, victimization and rejection by peers, hardships in romantic relationships, and problems in peer relationships play a larger factor in female depression than in male depression. The Social Skills Deficit Model suggests that people who have less than ideal social skills that provoke negative feedback from peers results in lower self-esteem and can cause depression (Beek, 2019).
- More so than boys, when teenage girls become sexually active they are more likely to feel failure and depression. Girls who are not sexually active are not as likely to be depressed. (Does Sexual Activity Trigger Depression, 1996).
- Extreme interpersonal stress contributes to an increase in depression amongst adolescent girls. 80% of all depressive episodes follow a time of intense stress. Interpersonal stressors, which are those stressors that impact personal relationships or social interactions, predict depression more strongly than non-interpersonal stressors. During the teenage years girls experience more interpersonal stress than boys (Owens, 2019).
- Experiential avoidance contributes greatly to the development of depression among teenage girls. Experiential avoidance is avoiding or not participating in private events that could cause one to be uncomfortable. EA is proven to cause an increase in childhood anxiety and behavior problems. EA contributes to a negative view of oneself, which leads to depression among teenage girls (Mellick, 2017).
- The absence of a biological father has been linked to depression among adolescent girls. This can also be associated with stressful family dynamics, which increases the likelihood of adolescent depression among girls (Culpin, 2014).
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Overcoming depression is not an easy battle. It is definitely not easy for adolescent girls. However, girls with parental support that notice the symptoms and offer them support are most likely to overcome the disease (Glowinski, 2016).
Learning to Control Our Thoughts
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Overcoming the battle with depression happens first, and foremost, in our thoughts. Helping teenage girls learn to control their thoughts and the focus of their thoughts can aid in the fight against Major Depressive Disorder. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is used in most Christian counselor offices. The focus of CBT therapy is to learn to control cognitions or thoughts which in turn control behaviors. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Socializing with Peers
Often, the pit of depression is exasperated because of loneliness. Helping teenage girls to see that they are not alone can be crucial. Parents and caregivers can encourage teen girls to stay away from experiential avoidance. Encouraging teen girls to seek out experiences where they are able to socialize with their peers is crucial. Although there could be anxiety on the front end of an experience, often times when the experience is over, teens are glad they did it. Ephesians 2:10 states, “We are God’s masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared in advance for us to do.”
Focusing on Purpose
The struggle with obesity, body image, and low self- esteem is tough. However, helping teen girls to focus on who God says they are, and the purpose that He has set before them, gives them reason to find happiness in their own skin. Encouraging teen girls in their daily purpose brings daily pleasure. Psalm 37: 23-24, “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him. Although he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.”
We are God’s masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared in advance for us to do.
Realizing that Mistakes Don’t Define you
Encouraging teenage girls to find their delight in the Lord can be a tough job, but it can help them understand where their fulfillment comes from. As stated, early sexual activity can lead to depression. Girls delight in something all the time. Help them to find their delight in what matters. Girls stumble. Boys stumble. Adults stumble.
. . . it’s how adults help teens to handle and deal with mistakes that can tear them down, or build them up.
Helping a teen girl to not feel like a failure when she stumbles is crucial in helping her not go down a road of depression. Although no one wants to make mistakes, it’s how adults help teens to handle and deal with mistakes that can tear them down, or build them up. The struggle with teens and depression can be more than most adults feel equipped to handle. Adults do not have to handle it on their own. Seek first the Kingdom of God and then if you feel His prompting seek wise counsel and professional help.
Out of ashes comes beauty!
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
Beek V., & Berg, A. (2019). Does less optimal nonverbal communication with peers predict the development of depression in adolescent boys and girls? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(8), 1379-1389. doi:10.1007/s10802-019-00517-6
Ciccarelli K., & White, J. N. (2014). Psychology: DSM 5. Boston: Pearson.
Culpin, Heron, J., Araya, R., & Joinson, C. (2014). Early childhood Father absence and depressive symptoms in adolescent girls from a UK cohort: The MEDIATING role of EARLY Menarche. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43(5), 921-931. doi:10.1007/s10802-014-9960-z
Does sexual activity trigger depression? (1996, August). USA Today, 125(2615), 5+. Retrieved from Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
Glowinski, A. (2016). Epression study of teens and young adults calls for urgency. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology Update, 18(12).
Mannan, M., Mamun, A., Doi, S., & Clavarino, A. (2016). Prospective associations between depression and obesity for adolescent males and females- A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. PLoS One, 11(6) doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0157240
Mellick, W., Vanwoerden, S., & Sharp, C. (2017). Experiential avoidance in the vulnerability to depression among adolescent females. Journal of Affective Disorders,208, 497-502. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.10.034
Owens, S.A., Helms, S.W., Rudolph, K.D. et al. Interpersonal Stress Severity Longitudinally Predicts Adolescent Girls’ Depressive Symptoms: the Moderating Role of Subjective and HPA Axis Stress Responses. J Abnorm Child Psychol 47, 895–905 (2019). https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1007/s10802-018-0483-x