Teenage Depression and Suicide:
What are the Warning Signs and How can we Prevent It?
Bob Livingstone, LCSW – Dec 21st 2010
Teenage depression and suicide has been in the headlines lately. Suicide is the third largest cause of death for teenagers behind accidents and homicide. Studies have shown that for every completed suicide, there are twenty-five suicide attempts.
According to a ScienceDaily 2007 article; Following a decline of more than 28 percent, the suicide rate for 10- to-24-year-olds increased by 8 percent, the largest single-year rise in 15 years. Many teenagers who end up attempting suicide have clinical symptoms of depression. These symptoms are: Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, significant loss or gain in appetite, difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, withdrawal from family and friends, neglect of personal appearance or hygiene , sadness, irritability, or indifference and having trouble concentrating. Other signs that your child may be suicidal are: Drug or alcohol use or abuse, aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior, poor school performance, hallucinations or unusual beliefs, risk taking behaviors, complains more frequently of boredom, does not respond as before to praise, states that she is thinking of killing herself, gives items away that she treasures, and writes suicide notes.
Teenage depression can be caused by genetic as well as environmental factors. There are two recent studies that we should all pay attention to concerning electronic use and diet. Too much time spent in front of the television or on computer games may seriously affect teens’ mental health, researchers found. The odds of developing depressive symptoms rose with each additional hour of exposure by a significant 8% for TV and 5% for overall electronic media, Brian A. Primack, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues reported in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
A research paper by Australia-based Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, published in the journal Preventive Medicine determined that there was a definite link between teenage depression and the consumption of fast/junk food. Teenagers may also be facing depression because of the intense pressure in their lives to get into the best college because the competition for the job market is so intense in 2009. They take classes to obtain high SAT scores. They not only have to achieve a 4.0 grade point average, but they have to participate in as many extra curricular activities as possible in order to gain admission to top schools.
Teenagers can be impulsive and not think through the possible consequences of their actions. If they feel rejected by their peers and feel devastated over a breakup with a girlfriend, they may become suicidal. They often feel extremely isolated during these periods and don’t reach out to those who can help them. The essence of being a teenager is suffering through mood swings.
These mood swings may be overwhelming at times and negatively effect self-esteem and confidence. Some adolescents also have a negative view of their parent’s lifestyle. Their perception is that their parents are unhappy, materialistic and simply going through the motions. These teens are fearful that they are destined to repeat their parent’s dreary lives and this creates angst and despair.
What can we do to Prevent Teenage Suicide? First of all, determine if your child has any of the symptoms discussed above. If she does, attempt to talk honestly with her about your concerns; that she is showing distinct signs of depression and you are worried about her. Don’t judge her or get angry-this is the time to remain calm.
Be prepared to be shocked and frightened, but do your best not to react. Being calm, compassionate and firm may allow her to open up about what is bothering her. Seek out the name of a psychotherapist who has extensive experience working with teenagers. You can obtain referrals from your family physician, school counselor or friends who are also parents of teenagers. The psychotherapist needs to be willing to work with your family as well as your child.
If your child refuses to go to therapy, take him to the nearest hospital emergency room where he can be assessed for suicide risk. If he refuses to go with after you have tried to convince him by conversing with those he respects, you are left with no other choice but to call the police. This is an extreme measure, but one that could save your child’s life.