Teen depression and suicide
It happens more often than most people realize. Each year, more than 5,000 persons between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide. And the number is increasing.
Many teenagers experience strong feelings of confusion and self doubt in the process of growing up. For some teenagers, divorce, the formation of a new family with stepparents and stepsiblings or a move to a new community can be very unsettling.
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable. Before appropriate treatment can begin, one needs to have his or her illness recognized and diagnosed.
Feeling isolated, anonymous
One study found that 90 percent of suicidal teens believed that their families did not understand them. The teens felt isolated and anonymous. They also believed that their efforts to communicate the feelings of unhappiness, frustration or failure were ignored or denied by parents who want their children to be successful. Some parents view depression and complaining as weakness and encourage their children to be strong and not show their emotions.
Some facts about suicide
- Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys actually commit suicide more often because they use more violent means.
- Students or students with parents who have drug or alcohol problems are much more likely to attempt suicide.
- Not all persons who are genuinely suicidal look depressed.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that if one or more of these signs occur, parents should talk to their child about their concerns and seek professional help if the concerns persist.
- noticeable change in eating and sleeping habits
- withdrawal from friends and family and from regular activities
- persistent boredom
- decline in the quality of school work
- violent or rebellious behavior
- running away
- drug and alcohol abuse
- unusual neglect of personal appearance
- difficulty concentrating
- radical personality change
- complaints about physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, headaches, and fatigue
- verbal comments such as "I won't be a problem much longer." or "It's no use."
- a sudden, forced cheerfulness after a period of depression
What can you do?
- Ask. If in doubt ask your teen if he or she is going through a crisis or thinking about suicide.
- Listen. Don't dismiss the teen's problems as trivial. To the young person they matter a great deal and really are his or her view of the world.
- Be honest. f you're worried about the person, say so. You will not spark thoughts of suicide by asking about it.
- Don't keep it a secret. Never agree to keep the discussion of suicide with a secret. Instead, offer help and support in getting professional assistance.
- Think about access. Prevent easy access to lethal weapons and large amounts of medicine.
- Call the police, if danger is imminent.
People often feel uncomfortable talking about death. Some people believe that if a person doesn't talks about suicide he or she won't do it. This is untrue. Talking about suicide and other concerns can provide assurance that somebody cares. It also gives the young person the chance to talk about his or her problems.
Often, teens do not see suicide as final. In times of stress, a desperate young person may some how see death as a temporary escape from pain, rather than the irreversible step that it is.
Many families face teen troubles including depression and the risk of suicide. Teens and their families can move through these difficult periods to a healthier path of development by finding a qualified professional to help.
Allina Mental Health: Crisis intervention
Allina Mental Health: Locations
Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; American Academy of Pediatrics; Medformation Audio Health Library, topic #5381; University of Minnesota Extension Service
First published: 09/14/1999
Last updated: 03/14/2006
Reviewed by: Susan Tabor, BSN, RN, care center director, Behavioral Health Services, United Hospital