Depression, suicide, mental health … words that most of us have a hard time comprehending, let alone discussing and seeking support for. Hopefully with more honest conversation, we can learn to understand how undiagnosed, untreated and mistreated depression really impacts our community and our young people. In fact, studies show that approximately two out of three people who commit suicide suffer from major depression first.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between 10 to 24.
- Major depression is a common mental disorder affecting adolescents in the United States.
- A major depressive episode is defined as: a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.
- In 2017, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
- Females are 50 percent less likely than males to use mental health services.
- 12–15 year-olds are 90 percent more likely than 8–11 year-olds to use mental health services.
It’s hard to say whether teenage depression is more prevalent today or that we are just becoming more aware of it. The fact is depression strikes teenagers more often than you think and unfortunately, only one in five depressed teens either seek out help or are offered help from a parent, teacher of other caregivers. While it is easy for adults to ask for and receive help, most teens are in a much more precarious position and find it difficult to obtain help when it is needed. Because of this it is critical that we all recognize the warning signs:
• Sadness or hopelessness
• Irritability, anger, or hostility
• Tearfulness or frequent crying
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Loss of interest in activities
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Accessing lethal means (stockpiling pills, purchase of a gun/knife)
• Physical pain and discomfort ( if someone you know complains often of any type of pain, like headaches, digestive system upset, or just general body pain, with no explanation or history)
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
• Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
• Fatigue or lack of energy
• Giving personal items away
• Difficulty concentrating
• Pervasive thoughts of death or suicide
Initiating conversation will hopefully allow your child to share what they are experiencing and feeling. Often times a depressed child will have a hard time opening up or they may be ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. It is not easy – be patient. If your child states that there is nothing wrong, it is important for you to trust your instincts and make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Depressed teenagers may be at risk of suicide, even if signs and symptoms don’t appear to be severe. Talking about the problem and offering support can go a long way in getting your teen’s life back on track.
If you suspect that a young person (or quite frankly, anyone) is suffering from depression, speak up and ask for help immediately. If your loved when TELLS YOU they feel suicidal, talks about giving up, nothing matters anymore … BELIEVE THEM; take their thoughts, comments, feelings seriously. It’s important not to make assumptions as to whether the problem is depression or not, as the above behaviors are still signs of a bigger or deeper problem. Sharing your concerns with your teenager/loved one is important; however, choose your words carefully and make sure to state your concerns in a loving and non-judgmental manner. Let them know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you and that you want to help see them safe and healthy. Remind your kids, if they have a friend they are worried about to speak up; there is no allowance for secret keeping when it comes to someone’s personal safety. Your kids need to know YOU are a safe place to come to if they are worried about their peer, teammate, classmate, neighbor, etc.
ALWAYS BE WILLING TO RISK A RELATIONSHIP IF IT MEANS KEEPING SOMEONE SAFE.
What do you do if you think someone is unsafe:
Ask them directly if they are considering suicide. You have to ask the question – directly. “Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?” If someone is actually threatening suicide, talking about doing it, or has or is actively asking for lethal means, call 911 immediately. Do not leave them alone.
If the situation is not that immediate, but you suspect someone is suicidal, talk to them about it. Mentioning suicide or discussing it is not going to push anyone over the edge and make them take action. Talk to this person privately, listen without judgment, and be compassionate. Create a safety plan – help them identify resources, list of people they can call when they feel vulnerable, reassure them they are not alone and it’s OK to talk about their feelings.
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