In this special month dedicated to suicide prevention awareness, and on this day particularly assigned for it’s commemoration, I wanted to take a moment to share a brief insight into teen depression and teen suicide from my perspective.
Let’s face it, teens have stressors just like we adults, sometimes more. I know most of us parents think teenage years are full of fun and games and carefree living–I am here to tell you that it is often not as we think. Not only do they have to deal with issues relating to adolescence, like the hormonal and physical body changes that accompany it, they also have to deal with school work big time. This may include dealing with AP classes, preparing for SATs and other standardized tests, taking college prep courses, as well as picking colleges and interviewing. They also may deal with dating and the drama that comes along with that, nuances of peer pressure from classmates, and pressure from coaches and teammates for those that participate in sports and other extracurricular activities like band, cheer-leading, and orchestra. I won’t even begin to mention how we parents have our own unique requirements for teens to either “be grown” or act grown, or how their siblings and other family members all have different opinions on whether the teens are grown or still children.
Phew! That can make for tough teen years!!
So, now that we all agree that teens do have it rough, the onus is on us as family members and the community (the entire village it takes to raise them) to be more cognizant of that fact and act accordingly.
Amidst all of these teen issues listed above, it is easy for us to miss true signs of depression and or suicidal thoughts in our teens. I, for one, missed the depressive signs in my son who was then 12-year old son, and was bullied in middle school. That sadness that has persisted for longer than 2 weeks now, might not be as a result of his or her school workload. It might not be as a result of the recent breakup from a dating partner; it might not be stress from their overscheduled life, nor pressure from their teachers or band director.
It might be depression and your teen might be suicidal as well.
Teens might become gradually withdrawn or lose their appetite, they might start losing interest in their normal daily activities or extracurriculars. Suddenly, they may no longer want to participate in competitive sports or they might simply drop out of the swim team. In some of my patients, I often note the spark is gone from their eyes–their air is of melancholy, with ashen faces and poor or no eye contact. They may begin hanging out with the wrong crowd, experimenting with drugs, or worse still, they may drop out of school altogether. Self-harm usually in the form of cutting themselves may also occur, and they often find creative ways to hide the marks and scars. For instance, be wary of the teen who always wears long sleeved sweatshirts or jogging pants in the (hot) summer. If suicidal, they might start giving away their favorite stuff, asking questions about death or asking about suicide. They often wish they are better off dead, and might mention it in passing. In truth they might be trying to reach out for help, but do not know how, or who to turn to. Regardless of the presence of friends and close family members, they might not want anyone they know, to know.
The average teen who is suffering from depression is most likely not going to tell you–their parent.
Where do you begin?
A family history of depression is sometimes the best place to start when it comes to honing in on our suspicions about our children and their prolonged moodiness. If you have a family history of mental illness, do not ignore it… it could happen to you or your child. Adolescence is often an easy period for symptoms of depression and other mental health issues to arise. Since the teens are already faced with a myriad of other stressors, depression simply slithers in, takes a seat, and gets comfortable.
When in doubt, ask their siblings, friends, or school mates about the behavior or mood of your teen. You will be surprised at the wealth of knowledge they possess. Afterall, they often spend a lot more time with your children than you do. Furthermore, these friends might not know how to approach the topic and might not know who to go to.
Your teens’ teachers and counselors will be another great resource. They are there to help and are often very willing to assist in any capacity.
Note that your child might not tell anyone at all and might even concoct stories to hide the truth. In fact, a patient’s mom recently recounted an instance when her son had told his curious sibling that the family cat had scratched him, in response to his sibling’s inquiry about the strange cuts on his forearms.
I recommend you find a nice neutral place to sit and talk, or a simple walk around the neighborhood, or a nice long drive, or even a picnic. A good ambience might help facilitate the communication on a face-to-face basis with your child. This might be a fruitful exercise if your child will cooperate, unfortunately, most teens really do not want to confide in, nor discuss these issues with their parents, however, it is still worth a try.
A short visit to the health professional, like the family pediatrician, family doctor, counselor or therapist is always a very good decision. They will ask you the proper questions and point you in the right direction to get your teen the appropriate kind of help they need. There are multiple places you can get help for your teen as well as their siblings (because there is often a need for siblings to participate in the treatment sessions in order to adequately understand exactly what is going on) and for yourself as well (especially if there is a family history of depression). These can either be online virtually, as telemedicine, or at your regular doctor’s office.
PS: My website dedicated to fighting teen depression and teen suicide, teenalive.com is LIVE, click the link to check it out!