It is a cause of great concern today that the number of young people struggling with anxiety and depression is on the rise. But research conducted a few years ago offers a glimmer of hope. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that adolescents who engage in meaningful activities helping others are less likely to be depressed over time.
While alleviating anxiety and depression among the young is a complex challenge, thinking about this study reminded me of an incident when helping someone aided me in breaking free of an unhappy, limited outlook.
Throughout high school and my early years of college, I suffered from a poor self-image that held me back from making friends and being the best version of myself. I felt awkward and alone almost all the time. On the surface, my life was good – I achieved high grades and had a loving family. But it seemed as if all the light and loveliness in me was being hidden by a dark cloud of self-doubt.
One morning during this time, I was in my dorm room reading the Bible, which I often turned to as a tried-and-true source of inspiration. A really popular young woman who was always very friendly to me, but whom I still felt too afraid to talk to, stuck her head in the door. Teary-eyed, she said, “I saw you reading the Bible. Can I come in and talk?”
I was stunned and nervous, but seeing her obvious distress, I invited her in. She poured her heart out, clearly in need of comfort. I felt inspired to share some helpful Bible passages that I had just been reading.
From that time forward we became good friends, and eventually she invited me to live in a house with seven wonderful young women, who I am still close to today over two decades later. Of greatest value, though, was what this experience taught me about the nature of love. Another much-loved go-to book for me since my early teens, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” – written by the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy – says, “Love is reflected in love” (p. 17). We are created by God, who is divine Love, as the expression of God’s limitless love. And when we express this pure love for others, we naturally feel it ourselves.
This was also noted by Christ Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. He instructs us not to hide our light, or the beautiful, spiritual gifts that we all have from God, under a bushel, but to share it with others so that God’s love may be seen and felt. He said, “[L]et your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, New International Version).
Over the next few years, I grew to see myself as God sees and loves all of us – as spiritual, beautiful, and good. And I started to love myself more. As I did, I found I was able to let my light shine more as well. My understanding of divine Love deepened as I gave to others, which in turn caused me to feel even more love and joy, and so on and so on. Happiness was inevitable when so much love was being spread around!
Another passage in Science and Health that is very special to me says: “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it” (p. 57).
This has helped me see that lasting happiness comes not from circumstance, possessions, or accomplishments, but from God – infinite Love and Truth. Christian Science also explains that because we are God’s offspring, His spiritual expression, genuine joy is always within us. And it grows in our experience when we let divine Love lead us, selflessly sharing our life and love with others.
Addressing depression among youths as well as adults can require patience and dedication. But one step forward we can all take today is to reach out, even in the littlest way, to someone else who needs help, and share our God-given light and love with them. Everyone has the ability to feel and experience the healing power of divine Love.