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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca
March 20, 2012 Kim Goldman

The community of Santa Clarita was recently stirred from a quiet suburban slumber, with news that a young girl was found unconscious near one of the local high schools. Rumors started to spread quickly and “love and prayers” were delivered immediately via social media to the family. Nobody was really talking about the “what” that caused this girl to be found unconscious, just an overwhelming sense of compassion extended to a fellow neighbor. That is lovely to witness.

But it needs to be said:  this was an attempted suicide by a 15 year old girl, who sadly knew no other way to ease her pain but to numb it forever.  She hanged herself off the S in the locally recognized SAUGUS sign behind Saugus High School. And when a concerned teacher valiantly appeared from the hillside to save her life – she fought him off; she didn’t want to be saved. She resisted his help when he offered her life. Let that simmer for a bit.

This post is not to judge, debate or accuse the school, the family or the young girl of any wrong doing… instead it’s to rip the band-aid off the taboo topic of suicide. The purpose of this article is to get the conversation going, to talk openly and honestly about an issue that persists amongst so many young people today, even in Awesometown. And before the naysayers get up in arms at the mere whisper of the “S” word … we know that having honest and candid dialogue about suicide, does not give permission to or incite suicide hysteria with those listening or participating in the conversation. On the contrary, being able to speak freely only promotes healthy discussion and resolutions, ultimately creating a safe place to share pain and anguish; it could just save a teenagers life.

The Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project works with so many teenagers who experience feelings of depression and/or suicidal ideation (a common medical term for thoughts about suicide, which may be as detailed as a formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Although most people who undergo suicidal ideation do not commit suicide, some go on to make suicide attempts).  Many of our students express feelings of deep despair, isolation, anger, sorrow, helplessness, being overwhelmed, an inability to cope, and yes, suicide.  Our kids want help – they want support – they need to know they are not alone and that their life has value.  But it’s not enough to just tell them that – we need to lead by example by talking, sharing, validating, listening.   Excusing their feelings away by blaming puberty or age, isn’t responsible.  Diminishing the importance of their feelings by saying “oh, your fine, it’s no big deal, you’ll get over it”, is not responsible.  And, you are right, it IS attention seeking – it IS a cry for help when someone talks about wanting to die and it is our job, your job, to take every threat (or casual comment) seriously; treat it with compassion and urgency.

So let’s start with what depression is and how it looks different between adults and adolescents. (Please note: The Youth Project is NOT the authority in the area of depression and suicide; we are merely a non-judgmental place for teens to discuss their feelings and provide them with healthy coping mechanisms. However, the staff are mandated reporters, so if a client expresses a desire to harm themselves or others, or shares thoughts about suicide – we are obligated to report to the necessary authorities.  We immediately assess the situation and take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the teen, which does include suicide contracts, collaborating with school administrators and parents, making referrals with other agencies dealing with mental health issues and possible hospitalization, should that be necessary.  Sadly, we have more experience in this area than we would like …

WARNING: IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, PLEASE CALL THE 24 HOUR NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Each of the following excerpts are taken from highly reputable sources and links to continue reading are located at the end of each paragraph.

What is depression? (excerpt from World Health Organization)

Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850,000 lives every year.

Click here for more information

The difference between teenage and adult depression (excerpt from The Help Guide)

Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:

  • Irritable or angry mood – As noted above, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
  • Withdrawing from some, but not all people – While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.

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Recognizing Adolescent Depression

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. This is a serious problem that calls for prompt, appropriate treatment. Depression can take several forms, including bipolar disorder (formally called manic-depression), which is a condition that alternates between periods of euphoria and depression.

Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Also, adolescents do not always understand or express their feelings very well. They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help.

If you’re unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem.

These symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two weeks:

  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Anger and rage
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Substance abuse
  • Problems with authority
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

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About Teen Suicide

The reasons behind a teen’s suicide or attempted suicide can be complex. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases tremendously during adolescence and has nearly tripled since the 1960’s.

Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth, after accidents and homicide deaths (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also thought that at least 25 attempts are made for every completed teen suicide.

Click here for more information

REPEAT: Teens who are seriously depressed often think, speak, or make “attention-getting” attempts at suicide. An alarming and increasing number of teenagers attempt and succeed at suicide, so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always be taken very seriously.

Suicide warning signs in depressed teens

  • Talking or joking about committing suicide.
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves.

The warning signs of suicidal feelings, thoughts, or behaviors may resemble other medical conditions or psychiatric problems. Always consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.

WARNING: IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, PLEASE CALL THE 24 HOUR NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

KidsHealth

Mental Health America

The Help Guide

National Institute of Mental Health

The Yellow Ribbon

On behalf of the staff at the Youth Project, we’d like to extend open arms to the young girl and her family from Saugus High School.  You are not alone; there are people in your corner to help you in your recovery.  We are here when you are ready.

And for anyone else that is feeling lonely, depressed or want someone to talk with, call the Youth Project (661.257.YOUTH (9688) – we can help or direct you to the appropriate agency.

 

 

 

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