Depression: Developmental?

How do you want your children to touch the transcendent? One way or another, with or without your guidance, many will seek it themselves.

Some try by using alcohol and other drugs, which can be both an escape from pain while having fun and connecting with friends. That altered state of consciousness in the company of peers can be seen as a ritual entry into another world.

Others seek out high-risk activities like taking physical or sexual risks, doing railway graffiti or stealing and robbing. Others again turn on themselves via self-harm and suicidal behaviour. All these behaviours have an element of pursuing an altered state of consciousness. Music that moves us can do the same.

As adults we know that the quest for meaning can entail struggle, darkness, confusion, disillusionment, suffering; there can be a loss of innocence from inside (why do I keep stuffing up?) or outside (illness, injury, betrayal, loss, bereavement, failure).

That struggle, perhaps seen in comments reflecting worthlessness, hopelessness, or futility, or in pervasive negativity and anger, can be depressing.

Here’s a challenging question: could some of the depression that teenagers experience be an understandable reaction to the struggle for meaning in their lives?

Could this kind of depression also be an invitation to go deeper, find meaning, open a new or different door?

When this ‘developmental depression’ (i.e. as the flipside of finding meaning) is well responded to, research has found that future resilience is strengthened and the chances of repeated episodes are substantially reduced.

Research also tells us that teenagers who have a transcendent relationship have a greatly reduced risk of substance abuse, aggression and high-risk behaviours both physical and sexual.

Cautionary note: it would be wrong to say that all depression is basically about identity confusion or spiritual dryness. Not all depression is of this kind.

Reference – The Spiritual Child: The new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving, by Lisa Miller

Upcoming opportunity: Engaging Adolescents Parent Course

Three 2-hour sessions at St Mark’s Catholic College, Stanhope Gardens, starting Thursday 11 August at 6 pm, run by a psychologist from Catholic Education. Phone St Mark’s 9852 0500.

  • Some common ground shared by parents & reasonable expectations to hold about adolescents

  • New understandings of adolescence

  • A three-option model & flow chart for decision-making

  • Self check-in, first - for parents.

  • Building relationship with your teenager and making the best of your non-crisis conversations with them

  • Skills for tough conversations for handling those problems you just can’t ignore


Upcoming opportunity: Ideas for parenting teens

A 3-hour session at Interrelate, Rouse Hill, Monday 29 August at 6 pm, on how to effectively communicate and set boundaries with your teenager.

Martin Graham

School Counsellor