A few years back my second-grade daughter came home from school and declared to me that she was depressed. I was curious and a bit concerned about where this came from since this was a new word for her and a new way for her to think about herself and life. After some questions it became apparent that her elementary school was educating the kids on mental health and the warning signs of depression. Possibly feeling sad or lonely that day at school, my little one had now been given a title for those emotions that resided inside her, and in an effort to fit the mold of others around her, she had taken on this new identity of depression. Thankfully, in that moment, the Lord gave me an opportunity to talk to her about these things and begin to help her reframe what she was thinking and feeling with truth from God’s Word.
Sadly, this experience with my daughter is similar to what many other families are going through with their own children today. We live in a world of hurting and confused young people and a society that is grasping for answers to the abundance of depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviors around us. These struggling kids do not know how to process the pain and emotions that they are experiencing, and often they don’t have anyone to turn to for help. In an attempt to stem the tide of the “mental health crisis,” government agencies, schools, and health care providers seek to give answers to the problems our kids are facing by labeling, giving diagnoses, and prescribing medications. Well-meaning parents want to help alleviate their child’s suffering and eliminate a variety of bad behaviors and the turmoil in their homes. As a result, parents often find solace in a doctor’s psychiatric diagnosis and prescribed treatments.
However, as Christian parents, we must approach this crisis with our young people through a different lens. It is our privilege and duty to look to God’s Word, to listen to what He says about where these emotions and accompanying behaviors come from, and to believe and apply His answers for hope and biblical change in the midst of brokenness.
How the Bible Defines the Problem
It can be tempting to want to explain the confusing behaviors and emotional struggles of our children with psychological labels, looking for potential reasons for why they are acting the way they do. It seems to somehow lighten the pain when we can say that our child’s erratic or troubling behavior is because they have a disorder that is found and labeled in a diagnostic manual. But, the reality is that these labels are impotent when trying to bring the real and lasting hope and change that our children so desperately need.
To be clear, in some cases a medical diagnosis is a welcomed explanation for the struggles a child is having in their outer man (body and brain)1For example, autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental diagnosis with real biological contributors., and with compassion we must consider how our child is suffering and how they may uniquely struggle in resisting sinful responses (Mark 14:38). But, in many cases, psychological labels only serve to encourage entrenched and sinful behaviors by giving the child a reason to believe that they cannot change and have no choice over how they will act or think. Without Scripture’s diagnosis of the heart issues, they will not experience God’s sufficient resources and power as true remedy.
The Bible tells us where these thoughts, behaviors, and emotions come from. The God who made our bodies and brains is not silent about the origin of our struggles nor about the chaos and confusion that is so common to the human experience (1 Corinthians 10:13). James tells us that disordered behavior and every evil practice come from our selfish ambition (James 3:16). God’s Word does not point us to the outer man as the source of disorder, but to our desires and the sinful intentions of our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19, Mark 7:20-23). Where there is chaos and confusion the Bible tells us to look to the true source of these things knowing that our hearts determine the course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23). Besides using God’s words to correctly define and explain troublesome thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we also look to Him for the remedies, and in doing so, we pave the way for Him to do a work of transformation in the child’s life.
Psychiatric Diagnoses and Identity
Another damaging side effect of diagnoses and labels is that they can begin to define a child. Because the child is now seen through the lens of the diagnosis, they may eventually believe they are not responsible for how they think, feel, behave, or relate to others, and conclude that they are victims of their own brain or disorder. As a result, many young people adopt an identity that is based upon a psychological label. When they look to friends and social media to give explanations for how they are feeling or to affirm or deny who they are, many teens will seek after the acceptance that comes from being labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis.
Thankfully as Christians we know that our identity and purpose are not tied to the labels that we receive from doctors, friends, or even self, but are categorically defined by the Creator of the Universe. He has made each person wonderfully unique and with value (Psalm 139). In love and surpassing kindness, He sent Jesus to give us abundant life together with Him (John 10:10; Ephesians 2:4-8; 1 John 4:9-10). We are His workmanship and those who are in Him are created for good works which He has already prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10). Because we are His, we are not to be defined and limited by how the world labels us. Instead, we live joyously in the freedom of what God says about us because “all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16-17).
Real Hope and Change
We can assuredly know the hope and lasting change that our children need comes only from God and His Word. Parents will constantly be confused and divided when they straddle the fence between God’s Word and man’s explanations and remedies. Just as the false prophets in Jeremiah’s time “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” we must not substitute God’s true remedy for man’s analgesic remedies that cannot truly heal the cares of the soul (Jeremiah 6:14). Instead, we must confidently entrust the care of our children to God and look to what He says about all matters of the body and soul. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3). Will we trust the one who created and gave life to our children and take Him at His Word? Ultimately, our hope is in knowing that the death of Jesus Christ has made a way for redemption and reconciliation. A life that is in submission to the Lord can be transformed and changed, bearing fruit that is consistent with being a child of God. This is the ultimate and best remedy for our children!