How to walk with teens who struggle with depression and anxiety

Practical steps to point them to hope

September 22, 2020

I work as a biblical counselor primarily with teens and kids. Fresh in the field, I do not want to hold up my limited experience as an indicator of our culture or make overgeneralized conclusions. My observations, however, line up with evidence-based research surrounding teenage anxiety and depression. The problem of anxiety and depression in teenagers seems to have increased, and the struggle to find helpful means of coping persists. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), anxiety and depression fall under the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in young people under the age of 18 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). The research found in the Pediatric News journal also indicates that depression, suicide rates, and anxiety have increased (Swick & Jellinick, 2019). With anxiety and depression on the rise, what can we do in our spheres of influence in order to engage wisely with teens struggling in these areas?

A biblical perspective

From a biblical perspective, community and connection serve as conduits for growth. God designed us for relationships (Gen. 2). God did not intend for man to walk through life alone. We see clearly the relational aspect divinely created within us from the very beginning. Thus, it makes good sense that relationships would serve as instruments of healing. We have the opportunity, then, to relationally connect with the teens in our lives to help them navigate the murky waters of anxiety and depression. 

Oftentimes, in the midst of anxiety or depression, vision narrows. We tend to zoom in on the current troubles. Little problems turn into big problems that seem almost unbearable to endure. We begin to feel hopeless and helpless, and then the despair and anxiety kick in. Who will we point our teens to when that happens? 

As we walk with teens struggling with anxiety and depression, we have the beautiful opportunity to point them to Jesus Christ, who sees, understands, and cares.

Our greatest help and hope comes from the Lord. Throughout Scripture, we read of men and women who experienced real emotions. They dealt with significant suffering. Specifically, the Psalms give us beautiful examples of experiencing deep emotion while running to God in the midst of those heavy feelings. We are given permission to feel the hard emotions and also welcomed to bring them to our mighty yet compassionate Father. And Jesus urges us to come to him with our weariness and our burdens (Matt. 11:28). This reorientation anchors our souls back to truth that gives us the endurance to bear up under suffering that may not cease during our lifetime.

Practical steps

Here are a few practical steps that will help us point our teens to Jesus. 

  1. Perspective: Offer teens a different perspective. Reorient their gaze from the present suffering to Christ and the big picture. Ask questions like: “What feels heavy right now?” “How can I support you best right now?” “How might you see this situation from a different perspective?” 
  2. Redemption: After affirming their feelings and normalizing their experience, we can point them to Jesus. In Jesus, we have redemption, hope, and a future. If your teen’s experience reminds you of a certain story in Scripture or a specific passage, share it with them. 
  3. Awe: Jesus came to the earth to walk as a man. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and he is the God of the universe. That reality should lead us to praise the God that would come to earth for us. Encourage your teen to keep a gratitude journal—a list of all the things they are thankful for. They can download a gratitude journal app or write it in a notebook. If your teen wants to take it a step further, encourage them to say a prayer of thanks to God, who has provided all these blessings. 
  4. Inspire: We have the opportunity to instill hope and inspire our teens to walk a different path than the world. God walks with us. He helps us. He strengthens us. He holds us. He sustains us. 
    Be honest with your teen about times you have been or currently are facing anxiety. This honesty not only builds connection, but it gives you the opportunity to model facing anxiety with courage from Jesus. Invite them into a conversation. You can say something like, “I am anxious, too. I don’t know how this situation will turn out, and that makes me afraid. Here is what I am doing to run to Jesus when I feel worried. What do you think?” 
    In addition, exploring how other men and women of faith dealt with their anxiety or depression can inspire teens, as well. Hearing others’ stories of struggle and faith lets them know that they aren’t alone and it provides a model of someone trusting Jesus in the midst of adversity. Here are some examples: David (Psas. 6, 27, 56); Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-39; Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:39-45); Corrie ten Boom (A Hiding Place); and Joni Erickson Tada (Jonia: An Unforgettable Story).
  5. Surrender: As we walk through life, we do have a decision to make in whether or not we will surrender to Jesus. As we walk with teens, we will have the opportunity to work through moments of surrender with them. Who will they choose to follow: the world or Jesus? The battles of anxiety and depression oftentime happen in the mind. Help them evaluate: What am I tempted to believe in this moment? Is it true/untrue? How can I replace this with the truth of Scripture?
  6. Endure: When we choose Jesus, we then have strength to endure through trials, anxiety, and depression. This endurance in the midst of anxiety and depression with joy and peace tells the world that a different way exists. We act differently because Jesus has changed us. He walked a different way, which we reflect every time we respond to anxiety or depression with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus Christ. 

Although we might not be able to guarantee complete freedom from anxiety and depression, we can help our teens prepare for future moments of anxiety. Self-regulating tools are God’s grace to them in the wake of hard emotions. Here are a few examples:


While life does not get better or easier by following Jesus, he gives us supernatural strength to walk with him faithfully. This produces character and joy in the process (Rom. 5:4-5). As we walk with teens struggling with anxiety and depression, we have the beautiful opportunity to point them to Jesus Christ, who sees, understands, and cares. 

What are we offering the teens in front of us? If it isn’t Jesus, it is a simple solution that offers the “just” remedy. “Just take care of yourself.” “Just think happy thoughts.” “Just tune out negative voices.” You get the idea. Good advice doesn’t start with “just.” It starts with Jesus. Look to Jesus. He offers himself, and in that offering, he gives peace and hope that significantly outweighs our present sufferings (2 Cor. 4:17) as we seek to fix our gaze firmly on him.


Swick, S. D., & Jellinek, M. S. (2019, June). Are anxiety, depression rates rising in kids, teens? Pediatric News, 53(6), 14+. Retrieved from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/A591395533/HRCA?u=vic_liberty&sid=HRCA&xid=7c778edb

Unknown Author. (2020, March 30). Anxiety and Depression in Children. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html

Elizabeth Selle

Elizabeth is a Christ-follower, who desires to help young people walk with Jesus Christ. Elizabeth graduated from Cairn University with her M.S. in Counseling and B.A. in Psychology. Currently, Elizabeth is working on obtaining her LPC in Ohio through Liberty University online and Fieldstone Counseling. She loves walking alongside young men … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24