For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel ( Zechariah 4:10).
As we begin to wrap up this thought experiment in May, it is now time to explore how a coach, parent, youth pastor, or mentor can help young people who are struggling with trends of anxiety and depression.
The more I have read and thought about discussions and observations, I was intrigued about the parallels of dealing with this in light of how we deal with other acute and chronic conditions.
On March 24, 2015 Briarwood Christian School hosted a small, informal meeting with six families to discuss and pray about struggles their children and families have had with debilitating migraines.We also invited a BCS teacher who has suffered with chronic migraines going back to her childhood.
Joining our discussion that day was Dr. Burel Goodin of UAB. Dr. Goodin is a clinical health psychologist with specialization in pain-related behavioral medicine.
We took much of our time hearing from each family. Though each case is unique, there were a number of common threads. Some had a family history of migraine issues. Most of the students experienced the onset of these migraines between 7th and 9th grade. Almost everyone mentioned an ‘ocular’ component to the headaches. You could hear both pain and frustration as each family talked about the laborious process of experimenting with medication, nutrition, examinations, trips to specialists around the country, non-medical therapies, and the nagging stress of school schedules and deadlines.
Dr. Burel did a nice job of framing the issues and confirming much of what these families had already experienced.
As a summary of this issue, I have decided to put together some points of emphasis.
A high school student dealing with any daily issue, physical OR mental is bearing an unusual burden AND has to bring tools and strategy to the fight that are uncommon for their age:
- Perseverance and Perspective
- Unusual Daily Discipline
- Detailed Documentation
- Effective Communication
- Logical and Systematic Adaptation
- Navigating Strained Relationships
PERSEVERANCE AND PERSPECTIVE
Any teenager dealing with chronic issues will have to find perseverance and perspective in the circumstance to have any hope of forward progress. At our school, this is ultimately a spiritual quest that must be empowered by God’s Spirit and cultivated by God’s Word. Long term struggles with pain or anxiety can create anger towards God and a loss of hope. My encouragement for these students and families is to press into God’s goodness and sovereignty. I also believe it is good to express your emotions to God- He understands and is a God of great compassion. His ultimate perspective and plan is eternal.
A final note about perseverance is that it is not a quest for perfection. Perseverance is not finding a way to never fall down. Perseverance is learning to fall less, stay down less, and get back up more quickly. “It is NOT a tragedy if you try and fail… and try and fail again. The tragedy is when you try and fail…. and fail to try again.”
UNUSUAL DAILY DISCIPLINE
We spend our entire lives having to re-learn the struggle regarding daily discipline. The management of any difficult issue actually forces students and families to INCREASE their commitment to these disciplines when they LEAST feel like doing them.
Dr. Goodin pressed this issue. When you think of all the factors and potential triggers: stress of living, hydration, nutrition, sleep patterns, disappointment, drama, musculoskeletal factors, hormones… the key for the student is to become an expert in time management and regular routine.
An example of this would be the student's sleep routine. Sleep patterns can contribute to the body’s ability to regulate and heal. Sleep deficit issues during the week may not be helped by sleep excess on the weekends.
Parents and students must work together to try and become efficient in these important areas.
It is recommended that students learn early on how to document their episodes and dispositions that may have direct or unintended impact. Human memory is not reliable. Students need to begin practicing ways to objectify their mood and thoughts (some may choose to use a personal scale of 1-10) and journaling throughout the journey.
Students need to keep a record of medications, dosage, food, exercise, therapy, and notes.
Students must be encouraged and trained to effectively communicate with health personnel, parents, teachers, coaches, and other students. There needs to be wise counsel on how much to share, when to share, and how to share. Remember…. people who are observing the students do not ‘see’ their struggles and this can create an absence of empathy. At the same time, accurate communication helps dissuade concerns regarding enablement. For students going to college, Dr. Goodin recommends checking with the school’s department of disability early on to put accommodations into place designed to help students manage issues- especially when these are the first experiences of these episodes away from home.
LOGICAL AND SYSTEMATIC ADAPTATION
The body has a powerful ability to adapt- young people are growing and learning how to cope. As a student grows and changes, there has to be strategy adjustments as well. The balance is figuring out how long to stay the course and when to implement change. Again, there needs to be great expert involvement and careful, detailed, and documented advice in this process. These changes may be in direct response to changing hormones or better stress management.
NAVIGATING STRAINED RELATIONSHIPS
Hurting children mean hurting parents, friends, and siblings. Any significant relationship in the world of issue management is a strained relationship. Every day is a struggle of when to push and when to give in. Dr. Goodin talked about the difficult decision a parent may have to make in nudging a student to school. His advice was ‘if you are able, you need to go to school and practice”. This can create some instant pushback. I understand- Every situation is unique. But if there isn’t a danger to themselves and they are not in need of emergency help, we need to press them to walk in their own circumstance and LEARN to battle. We have to reference school/team policies about attendance. This will help them see that this will be true in the future and future employment requirements- there are real world deadlines and requirements. These points of possible disagreement and conflict can put a strain on these already burdened relationships.
FINAL POINTS TO CONSIDER:
It takes a mighty partnership with parents, counselors, faculty, coaches, and others to keep an athlete who is struggling with anxiety, or depression, or disillusionment, or despair to just keep walking moment by moment... day by day.
Any prescribed medication needs to be handled legally and accurately. Great communication and wisdom is a necessity.