Depression in Boys: How I discovered I was a harmful helper

I don’t really understand depression. God has not yet added that as a chapter in my life, and based on my experiences and temperament likely won’t be. Because of our built in differences some of us are simply more prone, through our natural emotional make-up, our history, or our biology, to experience depression. Because the pain and frustration of depression was outside my experience I had never seriously considered depression in boys until I was sitting across from a young man in the midst of strangling emotional and spiritual pain. “I’ve never heard anyone preach or talk about depression at church.” He said to me, “I don’t know what to do.”

Those words fell on me with a weight of responsibility. Was I guilty of this devastating oversight in my own ministry? In my own family? Even if his perspective was not completely accurate, it was accurate enough that this covenant child of our church had no sense for how to respond to his depression and no confidence that he could talk about this dark and troubling sadness.

It turns out I had been negligent toward my responsibilities in this regard in both my family and my church. One of my three children around the age of 12 had struggled with depression without telling us. I didn’t know, but I had never asked. And I have since discovered that most of the women and many of the men in our church have experienced varying levels of genuine fear and depression. I know you don’t know me, but I am not one who panders to excuses. I am not easily influenced by our effeminate culture. But I have discovered that this is a real and important affliction that we ignore or gloss over to the detriment of our boys, families, and churches. 

In that moment sitting across from that young man, I decided that if I was going to help boys like him I would need to understand this subject far better. I immediately reached out for help. I was introduced to the work of a man named Zack Eswine. Zack is a pastor, a counselor, and a man who has suffered from depression all his life. I had just dropped my car off at the mechanic and with a 30 minute walk home figured it was a good time to listen to a lecture that Zack had given called, “Depression: How Do We Care For Those Who Struggle?” 

As I made my way through our town on my 30 minute walk home I wept more than once as I realized that in my efforts to help people in the past, I had only added to their pain. I had been what Charles Spurgeon, that great 19th century preacher and himself a sufferer of depression called “a harmful helper.” In my own ignorance, and because I had never experienced the affliction of depression, I was guilty of:

  • Misdiagnosing depression as sin
  • Telling people “Just do this …” 
  • Seeing their persistence in sadness as a weakness 

I should have recognized that persistence in the midst of darkness can be evidence of a strength in a spiritually dark valley that may very well have broken me if I’d had to walk that same road. 

The tears that flowed so vividly down my face were good tears. They were breaking my pride and equipping me to be able to accomplish what I desired: to truly help hurting people. 

There is much to be said on this subject and I am no expert. But I write this to warn you as a mom or a dad that boys do experience depression. Don’t assume, as might be easy to do in our current culture, that the sadness or darkness is just a culturally promoted fad. It’s not solely the result of hormones, easily brushed aside as a “stage”. Regardless of the causes, and they can be various, to help our boys navigate the emotions that God gives them is one of the most important roles we have been given as parents. 

We must be on guard to watch for sadness that has gotten infected or stuck so that we can help our boys walk one of the most devastating valleys through which the human soul can be dragged.

Depression in boys is not a sign of effeminate weakness. If your boy experiences depression he is joined by men like King David and even the Lord Jesus himself. He is in good company, but he still needs your help; even if that help is found in you seeking the counsel and assistance of others who have experience walking this road.

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