When we were preparing to bring our first child into the world, my husband and I scoured books for parenting advice. We imagined a bright future for our child—one filled with joy and accomplishments. But the baby books failed to mention that our child’s life story might include a long, unpredictable battle against depression. This harsh reality blindsided our family, leaving us confused about how to disciple our precious child through such a complicated issue.
I’ve navigated my own seasons of depression as an adult, but I never thought I would have to watch my preteen endure a similar struggle. As my husband and I watched her struggle with constant feelings of self-doubt, grief, and apathy, we had to learn firsthand what 2 Corinthians 1:4 explains: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT).
During that time, I repeatedly returned to certain truths God had used to comfort me during seasons of sorrow. Together, my daughter and I tried to navigate her fears about the future by faith, recalling those God-given consolations and clinging to them as a life-preserver amid stormy seas. Grounding ourselves—an imperfect mother and a depressed child—in the hope of the gospel was the only comfort I could offer when the despair became too much for her to bear.
Of this we can be sure: depression will not have the last word.
As parents, we can’t take the place of medical professionals, licensed counselors, or pastoral care. A child’s depressed feelings can indicate ordinary sadness or a more serious disorder, and we’ll typically need outside help to identify the nature of our child’s struggle. But parents do have something valuable to offer: love and encouragement.
When you sit together at the dinner table or ride in the car with your depressed child, these five talking points may remind you both of important gospel truth.
1. Depression Is Not Abnormal
Your child may feel overwhelming sorrow that they haven’t experienced before. They (and you!) may think the experience is abnormal, further pressing them into hopelessness. Instead, caregivers should affirm that depression isn’t an unusual part of the human experience—let alone the Christian experience. Talk to your child about the lives of Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job, and King David, and remind them that many of God’s people have felt overwhelming sorrow.
2. There Are Sad Seasons in Life
Depression is one of many experiences that can be incredibly, even debilitatingly, difficult. But caregivers should help children to remember that life in a sin-cursed world results in all kinds of seasons—not just the pleasant ones. Ecclesiastes 3:4 cautions that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when the lights go dark for a period. This knowledge doesn’t make the pain of depression vanish, but it does offer us hope. Tears may come, but joy will be restored (Ps. 30:5).
3. Sorrow Has a Language
Depression has a way of suffocating our ability to verbalize how we feel. If this is true for adults, who have decades of vocabulary at their disposal, it’s an even greater handicap for our suffering children. But God, in his immense kindness and tender care, has given us a biblical language for sorrow: lament. He knows we struggle to find words when we’re despondent, and he equips us to speak directly to him when we’re burdened.
By reading the psalms of lament (e.g., Psalms 13, 77, and 88) with our children, we can pass along the language God has given in order to grant their depression a voice. Using the words of Scripture, our children can express the anxiety, moaning, weariness, and restlessness they feel in their souls.
4. Jesus Goes Before Us and with Us
Being sensitive to the spiritual condition of our kids is imperative, and depression may give us the opportunity to invite them into relationship with Christ. For every child, it’s important to introduce them to the humanity of the Man of Sorrows. Christ experienced immense sorrow and grief, and his righteous endurance through human trials makes him the perfect Savior for those who suffer. Jesus is not only our forerunner, but also our fellow traveler, who loves us so much that he vows to always be with us—especially when we are sad (Ps. 34:18).
5. We Set Our Eyes on Eternity
Depression is a time when we can long for a country we’ve never seen but know exists. Our children may keenly sense that this world and all its promises are ultimately insufficient. It’s our privilege as caregivers, then, to introduce the hope of heaven in such times—as a tangible reality for the believer in Christ.
Christ’s resurrection guarantees our wrongs will be one day be put right. In eternity, we will no longer experience crying or mourning or death (Rev. 21:3–4). We will live forever in a place where sorrows will be no more. Heaven is a place where the pains we can’t reconcile in this life finally find their recompense. Of this we can be sure: depression will not have the last word.
As caregivers, our encouragements will inevitably be imperfect, our patience will sometimes tire, and, try as we might, we won’t always be able to understand the perspective of our despondent children. But our loving ministry—alongside the medical supervision of licensed practitioners and the care of counseling professionals—is part of Christ’s care for them. And Christ will minister to our children in ways mere humans cannot. By turning to him together, we introduce unshakable hope into sorrowful seasons, leaning fully on divine grace while we wait for the dark clouds to part.