This series is for everyone who has a young person to care for with resource that will help them address crises of today’s youth.
I received an email from a father who had heard me speak, He said he and his wife had always done their best to be good parents. They were part of good community and had always been proud of their children. But he told me that had just discovered something about their oldest daughter, something that brought their world crashing down around them. He described his daughter as a pretty girl, but he said she’d never been real popular with boys. Until recently.
She started dating one of the boys on the college band, and this father had just learned -very early in the relationship she had sex with him. She went from that band member to another. Before long, she had slept with the whole band! This tortured parent wrote me, “Bijo, they were passing my little girl around as some sort of ‘band girl’!”
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard similar stories, firsthand, that would melt even the hardest hearts. Parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and youth leaders confide their frustrations, fears and their intense and urgent longings for help with the complex, critical issues youth face today.
That’s the reason for Help & Hope for YOUth series.
Our humble effort through these articles is to provide any caring adults who wants to work with youth a collection of resources that will help them prevent and address crises so many of today’s youth face at one time or another.
Who should subscribe for this series?
It is most useful to those concerned adults who feel ill-equipped, who feel they are in over their heads, who long for a resource to help them help the kids who come to them. it is offered as a first line of defense for adults who hope to prevent or address the tragedies that too often afflict our youth.
What is covered in this series?
Each of the articles that follow focuses on topics and issues in the categories of Emotional, Relational, Family, Sexual, Abuse, Disorder, Addictions and Educational faced by youth, and is intended to offer strong working knowledge of the issues and appropriate short and long- term responses to each.
How to use this series?
Each issue is organized to lead you through the helping process in four steps for effective analysis and results.
1. Identity the problem
2. Discover the issue
3. Determine the effects
4. Suggest a right response
Do Subscribe and help us spread the word in your connections, so that these resources will reach everyone who has a young person to care for.
Bijo Joseph is the Founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg, 357152/Sec. 8 Co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and peer support offered by counsellors, coaches, social workers and volunteers.
Seventeen-year-old Meghna had been dating Bhasker for eighteen months when he broke up with her -over the phone. The following Monday Meghna sat where she and Bhasker had eaten lunch together since last September. Her friends sat with her. “I say you’re better off without him”, Ameesha said. “Yeah,” agreed Kavya. “You guys fought all the time anyways”. “I hear Sachin and Prachi just broke up”, offer Julie with an excited smile. ” You’ve always has crush on him, haven’t you?”
Meghna didn’t answer. She lifted her tray and left her friends without a word. They don’t understand, she thought. They’ve all had a lot of boyfriends. But Bhasker was her first real boyfriend, and she had entertained fantasies about marrying him ever since they started dating. When they first started going out, Meghna had made up her mind to be everything Bhasker wanted. She’d lost a little weight and begun dressing with him in mind. She tried so hard to please him; If he showed slighted pleasure in something she did or said, she would work to do more of the same. When their relationship became more physically intimate, she determined to give Bhasker anything and everything; they began having sex after six months as friends.
When Bhasker broke up with her, Meghna couldn’t believe it. She cried and begged him to leave her. She told him she’d change; she’d do anything he wanted. But her refused. Her first reaction was anger. After all I’ve done to make him happy, and still wasn’t enough. She thought. Then her anger turned inwards. I did everything I know how to do, and still wasn’t enough. I must be totally worthless. I’ll never have a man love me. I don’t deserve to have a man love me.
Over the next few weeks, Meghna started spending more time in her room. She seldom went out with her friends, preferring instead to stay home, listen to music and stare at the bedroom walls. She found it difficult to eat, and after few weeks of having trouble getting to sleep, she began to sleep most of the day, both in class and at home. She began to miss college frequently, and her grades dropped drastically. When her parents confronted her about her conduct, she shrugged, “I don’t care” was her only response. ” I don’t understand,” her mother told the youth leader. “She seems like she’s totally different girl than she was”
Problem of Depression
Once thought to be a singularly adult problem, depression is a regular state of many teens – and young adults. While it is difficult to measure how many teens suffer depression, “the findings suggest that a substantial proportion of young people are suffering from strong feelings of unhappiness and despair”. One source state, “nearly 5 percent of all teens are identified as clinically depressed every year.”
It is a complex and dangerous condition that often seems to defy description and definition. This is partly because people use the term depression to refer to different things: a general sadness, “the blues,” humiliation from failure, or a period of stress and emotional volatility. Even mental health professionals have struggled for years to devise a clear definition.
Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary defines depression as “a state of feeling sad” but adds a second definition: “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and helplessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”
Teenage depression is difficult to identify because its symptoms are different from the classical symptoms of adult depression.
Dr Ross Campbell writes: a teenager with mild depression acts and talks normally. There are no outward signs of depression. Mild teenage depression is manifested in fantasies, in daydreams, or in dreams during sleep. Mild depression is detectable only by somehow knowing the young person’s thought pattern and though content. Few professionals even can pick up depression in this state.
In moderate depression, also, the teenager acts and talks normally. However, in moderate depression, the content of the teenager’s speech is affected, dwelling primarily on depressing subjects such as death, morbid problems, and crises. Since many adults today seems to dwell on pessimistic trains of thoughts, the teenager’s depression may go unnoticed…..In the vast majority of cases, only in severe depression does the teenager actually appear depressed….There is an expectation to this, however. Teenager depression is difficult to identify because
teens are good at ‘masking’ it; that is, they can cover it by appearing OK even when they are absolutely miserable. This is often called smiling depression.
This is a front which teenagers employ unconsciously…. primarily when other people are around. When depressed teenagers are alone, they let down or relax the mask somewhat. This is helpful to parents. If we are able to see our teenagers at times when they believe no one is looking at them, we may be able to identify depression.
Adolescent depression can also be hard to recognize because it can be often mistaken for or accompanied by other things, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in girls.
Causes of Depression
“Since teenagers are in transition between childhood and adulthood,” writes Dr. G. Keith Olson, “it is not surprising that…many adolescents’ depression relates to development struggles….Some depression in adolescent is quite normal, probably more normal during this developmental stage than any other (except perhaps old age).” Still, depression can be extremely complex, and the causes may be numerous and varied.
Collins writes, depression often has a physical basis. At the simplest level, we know that lack of sleep, insufficient exercise, the side effects of drugs, physical illnesses, or improper diet can all create depression. Thousands of women experience depression as part of a monthly premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and some are victimized by postpartum depression following childbirth. Other physical influences, like neurochemical malfunctioning brain rumors, or glandular disorders, are more complicated creators of depression.
There is evidence that depression runs in families and may have a genetic basis. This is difficult to demonstrate conclusively, research reports are sometimes contradictory. Other research has linked depression to brain chemistry that often can be altered by antidepressive drugs.
Tim LaHaye writes, some psychiatrists like Dr Ostow, considers ambivalence the most common precipitative cause of depression. He defines ambivalence as
the sense of being trapped, that is, being unable to remedy an intolerable situation.
Collins refers to this as “learned helplessness,” and says, “When we learn that are actions are futile no matter how hard we try, that there is nothing we can do to relieve suffering, reach a goal or bring change, then depression is a common response. It comes when we feel helpless and give up trying.”
Researchers Joan Robertson and Ronald Simons reported that, according to a study they conducted, “Perceived parental rejection was significantly associated with both depression and low self-esteem showing a strong relationship with depression.” Their findings agree with earlier studies (Brown and Harris, Brown et al) that found that
young people who experience or sense rejection from their parents are more likely to experience depression.
K Brent Morrow and Gwendolyn T Sorell are among those researchers who have traced a connection between depression and abuse – particularly physical and sexual abuse. They have concluded that
severity of abuse was the single most powerful predictor of self-esteem, depression and negative behavior in incest victim.
A young person’s mental habits and ways of thinking also can make him or her susceptible to depressive illness. Collins cites psychiatrist Aaron Beck who says that depressed people show negative thought patterns in three areas:
First, they view the world and life experience negatively. Life is seen as a succession of burdens, obstacles, and defeats in a world which is “going down the drain. Second, many depressed people have negative view of themselves. They feel deficient, inadequate, unworthy and incapable of performing adequately. This in turn can lead to self-blame and self-pity. Third, these people view the future in a negative way. Looking ahead they see continuing hardship, frustration and hopelessness.
Numerous researchers and authors cite stress as a pivotal factor in depression. Olson write:
When a person encounters stressful events in life that feel overpowering or threating, one possible reaction is depression.
Such events in the life of a teen may include “the rupture of an intense relationship with peer, family discord; parental separation, divorce, or death of a parent; unwanted pregnancy or abortion; and any event which lowers the teenager’s self-esteem such as expulsion from school, failure to make a team, academic failure or not being invited to a popular social event.”
A young person who has not learned or devised ways of effectively handling and expressing anger is more likely to struggle with depressive illness. Doctors Minirth and Meier write:
Over and over in the literature on the subject, depression is described as anger turned inward.
In vast majority of cases, anger is very apparent in the facial expressions, in the voice, and in the gestures of depressed individuals. They are often intensely angry, but they do not recognize their anger. A young person may be angry at a friend or loved one who has died, or at his or her own helplessness. If he or she has been taught (by his parents, teacher, religion etc.) that anger is always bad, the youth may repress anger rather than resolving it.
Collins writes, it is not difficult to understand why guilt can lead to depression. When a person feels that he or she has failed or has done something wrong, guilt arises and along with it comes self-condemnation, hopelessness and other symptoms of depression.
Guilt and depression so often occur together that it is difficult to determine which comes first.
Perhaps in most cases guilt comes before depression but at times depression will cause people to feel guilty (because they seem unable to “snap out” of the despair). In either case a vicious cycle is set in motion.
Effects of Depression
The effects of depression can read like a catalog of physical and psychological afflictions. Among the effects are physical and emotional effects, shortened attention span and / or daydreaming, masked reactions, withdrawal, suicidal behavior, and depressive tendencies in adulthood.
Minirth and Meier catalog some of the physical ramifications of depression: Clinical depression includes the physical symptoms…. These biochemical changes have various physical results: The body movements of the depressed individual usually decrease. Quality of his sleep is affected….Initially, rather that sleeping too little, he may sleep too much. His appetite is also often affected. He either eats too much or too little (usually too little). Thus, he may have either significant weight loss or weight gain. He may suffer from diarrhea, but more frequently from constipation. In women, the menstrual cycle may stop entirely for months, or it may be irregular. There is often a loss of sexual interest. The depressed individual may suffer from tension headaches or complain of tightness in his head. Along with slow body movements, he may have a stooped posture and seem to be in a stupor. He may have gastrointestinal disturbances. He may have a slow metabolic rate. He may suffer from a dry mouth. A rapid heartbeat and heart palpitations are fairly common. These physiological changes scare most individuals into hypochondriasis (an overconcern with physical illnesses).
While teens may not exhibit the classic signs of adult depressions, as mentioned above, they may evidence some emotional effects of depression, such as those described by Minirth and Meier: One major symptom of depression is sad affect (or moodiness). An individual suffering from depression has a sad facial expression, He looks depressed. he either cry often or feels like it. His eyes are cast down and sad. The corners of his mouth droop. His forehead is wrinkled. He looks tired, discouraged and dejected. His features are strained. As the depression progresses, he gradually loses interest in his personal appearances.
Shortened Attention Span/Daydreaming
Campbell suggests, in mild teenage depression, the first symptom generally seen is a shortening of attention span. …[The teen’s] mind drifts from what he wants to focus on, and he becomes increasingly distractable. He finds himself daydreaming more and more. This shortening of attention span usually becomes obvious when the teen attempts to do his homework. He finds it harder to keep his mind on it. And it seems that the harder he tries, the less he accomplishes. Of course, this leads to frustration, as the teenager then blames himself for being “stupid” or “dumb.”
Researchers Marion Ehrenberg, David Cox, and Ramond Koopman points out that adolescents do not typically express their depression directly but rather through the use of “mask,” or “depressive equivalents.” Collins lists the following “masked reactions”:
aggressive actions and angry temper outbursts
impulsive behavior including gambling, drinking, violence, destructiveness or impulsive sex
Other masked reactions might include delinquency, school phobias, and poor grades.
Campbell writes: In this miserable state the teenager may withdraw from peers. And to make matter worse,
he doesn’t simply avoid his peers, but may disengage himself from them with such hostility, belligerence, and unpleasantness that he alienates them.
As a result, the teenager becomes very lonely. And since he has so thoroughly antagonized his good friends, he finds himself associating with rather unwholesome peers who use drugs and/or are frequently in trouble.
Many studies have linked adolescent depression to suicidal behavior (including Carlson and Cantwell; Crumley; Pfeffer, Zuckerman, Putchik, and Mizruchi; Simons and Murphy). Collins writes: Not all depressed people attempt suicide, but many do, often in a sincere attempt to kill themselves and escape from life. For others, suicide attempts are an unconscious cry for help, an opportunity for revenge, or a manipulative gesture designed to influence some person who is close emotionally. While some people carefully plan their self-destructive act, others drive recklessly, drink excessively, or find other ways to flirt with death.
Depressive Tendencies in Adulthood
One of the more long-term effects of teenage depression is the well-documented tendency of depressive adolescents to experience major depressive episodes in adulthood. Young people who do not successfully resolve their struggles with depression during their teen years are likely to face further battles with depression as adults.
Response to the Problem of Depression
“Most people don’t ‘snap out’ of depression,” Collins points out. “The road to recovery is long, difficult, and marked by mood fluctuations which come with special intensity when there are disappointment, failures or separations.” Still, a patient youth leader, teacher, or parent can help a young person through a depressive episode by employing a strategy such as the following:
“Fairly early in the treatment of adolescent depression,” writes Olson, “the [young person] needs to be able to ventilate or in some way release his or her feelings of anger, guilt and self-doubt. These repressed feelings will block all other efforts at movement out of depression until they are given up…. The counsellor’s task is to encourage such expression, accept it and work toward helping the [young person] channel this released energy into constructive directions.” This may be accomplished by:
Prayer both in preparation to talk to the youth, and in guiding the young person (when he or she is ready) to talk honestly and fervently to God about his or her depression, and to seek His help in conquering it.
Patient encouragement of the young person to talk (without cajoling).
Interested questions (such as, “When do you feel most depressed?” “Do you spend a lot of time alone” and ” What do you usually do when you start feeling depressed?”)
Frequent reassurances and words of comfort.
Alertness for evidence of anger, hurt, poor self-esteem, etc.
A parent, youth leader, or teacher will want to empathize with the young person suffering from depression – to try to “walk” with him or her, as authors Don Baker and Emery Nester put it. However, in the case of a depressed person, a warning is also in order. Because of the counselee’s feeling of helplessness, he or she will probably place on unrealistic expectations to catalyze a magical cure…. The display of inadequacy, dependency and need are partially motivated by conscious or unconscious wishes for the counsellor to take care of them….The counselee [may feel] strong dependency on the counselor. The adult need to take special care, therefore, to empathize without letting an unhealthy dependence develop.
Olson writes, the presence of emotional support and reassurance from the counselor is vital when working with depressed adolescents. Complete acceptance of the [young man or woman] is one of the best ways to communicate support. The counsellor’s realistic optimism that there is “light at the end of the dark tunnel of depression” is often very encouraging to a counselee who feels absolutely hopeless. And when the depressed teenager shows some gains or makes some movement, compliments and statements of encouragement are in order.
David A. Seamands, in his book Healing Damaged Emotions, suggests several directions in which a concerned adult can point a depressed youth:
Avoid being alone. Force yourself to be with people. This is one of the major areas where you have a definite choice in your depressions.
Seek help from others. Tell someone how you’re feeling. Ask someone for help in combatting your mood. Seek out people and situations which generate joy.
Sing. Use uplifting music to manipulate your moods.
Rest confidently in the presence of God. For God’s presence is cause for hope and means of healing.
As with many other situations in which an adult wishes to influence a young person, it is crucial to enlist the youth’s determination and participation in his or her recovery, rather than simply advising to the youth. Don Baker and Emery Nester offer specific ways to enlist the young person’s cooperation.
Encourage the depressed [person] to be involved in sone new activity. Help him choose things he has always wanted to do but for which he has never had time….Aim for an activity that is available, geographically and financially. It best serves if it is time-consuming. It should be within the capabilities of the individual. Gardening, painting, photography, or an aerobic sport such as running, or swimming are often activities that fir above criteria.
If there is any possibility that the depressed young person represents a danger to himself or herself, take immediate steps to obtain intervention by a professional counselor. Be alert for indications such as:
talk of suicide
evidence of a “thought-out” plan of action for killing oneself
feelings of hopelessness and / or meaninglessness
indications of guilt and worthlessness
recent environmental stresses (such as death in family, parental divorce etc.)
an inability to cope with stress
excessive concern about physical illness
preoccupation with insomnia
evidence of disorientation or defiance
a tendency to be dependent and dissatisfied at the same time
a sudden and unexplainable shift to a happy, cheerful mood (which often means that the decision to attempt suicide has been made)
knowledge regarding the most effective methods of suicide
history of prior suicide attempts (those who have tried before often repeat their attempt.)
Don’t hesitate to ask the young person directly if he or she has contemplated suicide and take the answer seriously.
Finally, referral to a psychiatrist or physician may be warranted in some cases (with parental permission).
Was this article helpful for you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that this article will reach someone who has a depressed young person to care for.
Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by coaches, counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.
Raksha is typical of many teen girls. She was an only child who grew with much stress in her home. Her dad was emotionally unstable. Raksha tried to be understanding; she reasoned that her dad had enough to worry about just taking care of his own problems, but she often longed for someone who would treat her as a special person. She reached her teen years wondering if a man would ever pay attention to her, let alone love her. When she entered junior college, her parent’s divorce, and she and her mom had to move to a new city, so her mom could get a decent job.
“It was hard making friends at my new college,” Raksha explained later. “Actually, I never did make any girlfriends”. And home wasn’t much better. Mom was gone most of the time. I thought I would die from the loneliness.
“That’s why was so surprised – overjoyed, really – when Raj asked me out.” Raksha and Raj began dating. Raj was older and more experienced, and before long he started pressuring Raksha to have sex with him. Raksha knew other girls at junior college who were sexually involved, and this added to her turmoil.
“There was no way I wanted to go back to the way things were before Raj”, she says. “If I had lost Raj, I would have been lonelier than before”. Raj had filled a lonely void in Raksha’s life, so rather than lose him, she consented to have sex with him. Raksha needed acceptance, and she thought her physical relationship with Raj would make her feel wanted. She and Raj still date, and they still have sex together, But Raksha knows Raj also dated other girls. And she’s still lonely.
Problem of Loneliness
Loneliness is an uncommonly common problem. It exists everywhere, among all kinds of people.
Loneliness is the painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with others. It involves a feeling of inner emptiness which can be accompanied by sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness, anxiety and an intense desire to be wanted and needed by someone.
A study by psychoanalyst Michael Whitenburgh revealed that the greatest fear – beyond claustrophobia, beyond the fear of insects, beyond fear of flying – is the fear of loneliness. As prevalent (and destructive) as loneliness is among the adult population, it is even more pronounced among youth and can be overwhelming, consuming and devasting.
The teen years are the time in life when the need for social acceptance is at its peak. Adolescents regard themselves as no longer children, and most are making efforts to become more independent from their family. Ties with peer groups are extremely important. And the resulting pressure can be tremendous.
Even if a teenager has a pleasant family atmosphere, loneliness can be great problem, if there are inadequate ties with other teens.
Psychologist Craig Ellison has suggested that there are three kinds of loneliness:
Emotional Loneliness involves the lack or loss of a psychologically intimate relationship with another person or persons. The emotionally lonely person feels utterly alone and can only recover by establishing new in-depth relationships with others.
Social Loneliness the feeling of aimlessness, anxiety and emptiness. The person feels that she/he is ‘out of it’ and on the margin of life, instead of an in-depth relationship with specific companion, the socially lonely person needs a supportive group of accepting friends and skill in relating with others.
Existential Loneliness refers to the sense of isolation which comes to the person who is separated from God and who feels that life has no meaning or purpose. Such persons need a committed and growing relationship with God, preferably within the confines of a concerned community of believers.
Causes of Loneliness
Loneliness may have many and varies causes and identifying them most often a job for a highly trained professional. However, some exposure to the possible influences on a young person who is feeling acute loneliness may nonetheless be helpful for the caring adult or parent.
Low Self Esteem: Studies by Levin and Stokes and Peplau and Perlman suggest that “negative evaluations of their own bodies sexuality, health, appearance, behaviour, and functioning” contribute to a young person’s vulnerability to feelings of loneliness. As Collin writes,
When we have little confidence in ourselves it is difficult to build friendships. The person is unable to give love without apologizing; neither can he or she receive love without cutting one- self down
Poor Family Relationships: A number of studies suggest that family background is crucial factor in a young person’s vulnerability to loneliness J. Ponzetti Jr writes: lonely students recall poorer relationships with their parents and childhood friends. They also remember less family togetherness. Mohan and Hecht and Baum noted significant correlations between loneliness and disrupted patterns of attachment suggesting that the lack of bonding early in life may contribute to the experience of loneliness.
Social Factors: In their books Why Be Lonely? Carter, Meirer, and Minirth write: Our society is fast, mobile, and changing. Although we may come in contact with hundreds and thousands, there is not enough time to build relationships, and so people are lonely. also because of mobile there is less time for personal communication. Even the little time people have for each other is spent in loneliness in front mobile screens. Research shows that excessive mobile usage also causes individuals to trust each other’s less and thus promote loneliness.
We live in a society that tends to promote loneliness.
Temporary or Changing Circumstances: Sometimes youth are lonely because of their circumstances: a girl whose boyfriend “dumps” her; a unathletic boy whose closest friends time is consumed with cricket camp, practices and games; a college student who has not yet made friends; a teen whose family has moved to a new neighborhood, leaving many friends behind. Such situational loneliness is often temporary, however particularly in the case of youth.
People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.
Fear: Sometimes individuals do erect barriers to keep others out. Often this is done because of fear of intimacy, fear of being know, fear of rejection or fear of being hurt – as we may have been hurt in the past. The loneliness is painful but for such people it is no less painful than the fear and insecurity of reaching out to others.
Hostility: Some people are lonely because they harbor feelings of anger and bitterness that alienate others and drive them away. Such alienation, of course, often produces further frustration and anger, deepening the person’s loneliness in a whirlpool of self-defeating emotions and reactions.
An inability or unwillingness to communicate is sometimes at the root of a person’s loneliness
Inability to Communicate: Communication breakdowns are at the root of many, perhaps most, interpersonal problems. When people are unwilling to communicate, or when they don’t know how to communicate honestly, there is a persisting isolation and loneliness even though individuals may be surrounded by others.
Some loneliness results from estrangement from God
Spiritual Causes: An individual in an open rebellion against God will often feel a deep existential loneliness that can only be corrected by filling that God-shaped void that exists in every human hearts. The same loneliness often results from unforgiveness (not asking forgiveness) or even from a casual negligence of God’s care and His claim on one’s life.
Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness effects young people in many and varied ways. The following elaboration of the effects of loneliness may not only serve as warning but may also help equip a parent or concerned individual to spot the problem, which may in turn lead to a successful response to the problem.
Loneliness has a way of infecting every fiber of our being; our hopes, ambitions, dreams, vitality, desires, wants, as well as our actual physical bodies.
Physical Effects: Ira J Tanner’s book Loneliness– The Fear of Love records some of the physical effects of loneliness. Eating and sleeping are frequently affected. Obesity and greed may well be symptoms of loneliness, although loss of weight can also be traced to despair that goes with a feeling of being of no importance or worth to anyone, not even to ourselves. The misery of loneliness may manifest itself in the legs is not uncommon, stemming from the heavy burden of fear that we are carrying on our backs. Stooped shoulders, turned-down corners of mouth, a slow and painful walk, silence and withdrawal – all bearing testimony to loneliness.
Low Self-Esteem: In the cruel cycle that loneliness creates, low self-esteem and a poor self-concept can be not only a cause but also an effect of loneliness. Lonely youth report feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness. As their loneliness deepens, they view their lack of friendship as a personal failure, a reflection of their unworthiness. Such people sometimes withdraw into self-pity, self-centeredness, and self-abuse.
People who have constant bouts with loneliness often fall into overly dependent style of life.
Dependence: Carter, Meier and Minirth writes, an overly dependent person becomes excessively worried and upset if he is rejected by someone. He clings to people, sucking up all their emotional energy. Dependent persons tend to follow a predictable progression in their relationships. They first discount their own abilities to take charge of their emotional lives. Second, the expect others to fulfill their needs for them. Then they begin to make demands of those whom they depend, Naturally, this causes others to retreat from them, keeping at distance. Dependent person finds himself back to square one and usually continues the cycle endlessly.
Loneliness breeds depression, which can lead to despair and, in some cases, to suicide.
Depression and Despair: Youth often keep their problems and feeling bottled up inside, fearing to express how they feel or not knowing how to express how they feel, increasing their sense of aloneness and heightening the despair they feel. The self-pity and alienation that often characterize chronic loneliness becomes a cycle of self-defeating attitudes leading the sufferer ever deeper into what it seems like a black hole of hopelessness.
Substance Abuse: Alcohol and drugs often seem to be attractive means to escape to a chronic sufferer of loneliness and may turn to substance abuse in an attempt to ‘drown their sorrow’ or in a misguided attempt to make friends of other abusers. Such behaviours, of course, fails to produce the desire results and adds yet another problem to the loneliness.
Person suffering with extreme loneliness will often feel out of fellowship with God, estranged from him, perhaps even deserted by Him.
Spiritual Effect: Cartner, Meier and Minirth speak to this in their book Why Be Lonely? Because of our human imperfections, we are bound to fall short of a state of constant communication with God. Unfortunately, the person who suffers from loneliness does not allow himself to grasp the inner peace found in this relationship. He feels far away from God.
Response to the Problem of Loneliness
People suffering from acute loneliness are often counselled to “change jobs, join a club, be positive, become aggressive, get married, travel, move, have fun, never be alone. listen to music, watch netflix, enjoy movies, read a good book, take up hobby, pursue cultural interests, expand your horizon, play, increase leisure, renew goals, volunteer – and all of these activities may temporarily remedy the pain of loneliness, but they fail to meet the problem on a deeper level and do not produce the desired lasting results”.
When helping lonely teenagers, however, the wise caring or parent or friend will instead pursue a course such as the following which may help determine the root problem and address it affectively:
Encourage the young person to talk freely about his or her loneliness. Attempt to help the youth express himself or herself with such questions as:
Can you describe what you’re feeling and thinking?
Have you struggled with feelings of loneliness for some time?
When do you feel most lonely?
When do you feel least lonely?
Are there times when these feelings get away? Describe them.
What are some ways you try to cope with your loneliness?
Try to stay away from “Why” question (Why do you think you are lonely?) and instead try to focus on “What” (What makes you feel better?) and “How” (How do you think you can respond when you start to get overwhelmed again?)
As the young person shares his or her feelings of loneliness, communicate your empathy and interest by:
Leaning slightly forward in your chair.
Make eye contact.
Nodding to indicate understanding.
Reflecting key statements (“You feel… and “You’re saying…”)
Waiting patiently through periods of silence and tears.
Be careful not to say “I know how you feel” or to relate stories from your past but try to communicate that the young person is not alone in feeling the way he or she does.
Be alert to every opportunity to offer sincere and truthful affirmation to the young person, particularly if there is a chance the youth’s loneliness is a result of low self-esteem. Collins says,
Lonely people must be helped to see and acknowledge their strengths, abilities and gifts, as well as their weakness.
Counselees must be reminded that in God’s sight every human being is valuable and loved, that every fault can be forgiven, that each of us has abilities and gifts which can be developed, and that all people have weaknesses which can be lived with and for which we can compensate.
Gently but firmly guide the youth to talk through the causes and effects of his or her loneliness, sensitively steering him or her to accept responsibility for our own loneliness. If we sit back passively and wait for a relationship to be restored or a new one to be formed, it won’t happen. If we blame our lonely situation on someone else, we’ll only feel bitter. If we blame it on ourselves, we’ll only feel defeated.
The first step in overcoming loneliness is to face it and accept the responsibility for coping with it.
Be especially alert to opportunity to guide him or her to answer the following:
Is the loneliness due to a temporary situation? All of us experience occasional situations that cause loneliness, such as the student who moved with his parents to new city. Such bouts of loneliness often disappear when the temporary situation is gone.
Is the loneliness due to changing circumstances? Life has a way of surprising – or disappointing – us with sudden changes that throw us off balance. The grandparent the teen had always confided in dies. His or her three best friends have begun to do some things the lonely teen can’t participate in, and now they are shutting him or her out. These situations usually take more out of us than temporary events. New adjustments are required that don’t come easily. We have to experience the grief of loss; we have to find new friends and build relationships. And that’s not easy.
Is loneliness due to something inside the youth? Perhaps the youth is shy by nature. Maybe he or she has an inner insecurity that makes it hard to make friends. Certain characteristics of the youth’s personality may alienate him or her from others. Maybe he or she has dreaded social skills. While this their kind of loneliness may be the most difficult to resolve, it can – once identified – be addressed with honesty and sincere effort.
Enlist the young person’s participation in developing a plan of action for overcoming his or her loneliness.
Once the primary cause or causes of loneliness have been identified, guide him or her to establish specific goals (such as adjusting expectations in a particular way or taking new risks in specific areas). Such an action plan should involve small or manageable steps, it should be specific and measurable, it should be reasonable and workable, and it should be stated positively (“I will invite a friend to a concert this weekend” instead of ” I’m not going to hibernate in my room all weekend”).
If the young person’s loneliness seems to persist or worsen – particularly if his or her behaviour becomes erratic, or he or she begins to talk about suicide – refer him or her as soon as possible to professional counselling.
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Bijo Joseph is the Founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg, 357152/Sec. 8 Co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and peer support offered by counsellors, coaches, social workers and volunteers.