While we’d like to believe that most teen-age angst goes away on its own with time, the truth is that teen suicide is on the rise, especially in young girls. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among ten to twenty-four year olds. It’s estimated that one in five teens from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point in their teen years and depression can lead to thoughts of desperation and desire to end life.
Teens face many pressures in our fast-paced world. They endure natural body and hormone changes we all faced, plus questions of identity and finding a place socially, emotionally and psychologically. Teen depression goes further than normal moodiness and can sometimes be hard to diagnose. But teen depression can be treated and young lives can be rescued back to normalcy.
How to Know Teens Need Help
Since most teens go through some times of sadness and ups and downs of emotions, it can be difficult to know when they are really in trouble. Here are some behaviors to watch for which, taken together, can alert parents and other adults to their need for help.
- • Troubles at School including poor attendance, lack of focus, and a drop in grades
- • Drug and Alcohol Abuse in an attempt to bury their pain
- • Lower Self Esteem in which teens may feel ashamed, unworthy or unappealing
- • Reckless Behavior where they engage in high-risk driving, drinking, or unsafe sex
- • Internet Addiction as a means of escaping real life and increasing their sense of isolation
- • Violent Behavior, more common in boys, can be the result of bullying.
In other cases extreme behaviors such as cutting (self-injury) or eating disorders may be the result of depression.
In addition to the above behaviors, adults may notice that their teens display some of the following behaviors:
- • Sadness or hopelessness
- • Irritability, anger, hostility
- • Frequent crying
- • Withdrawal from friends and activities
- • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- • Fatigue and lack of energy
- • Unexplained aches and pains
- • Thoughts of death or suicide
Again, everyone feels some negative feelings from time to time. The key is to watch for patterns, sudden changes in behavior or a combination of the above problems that become worrisome to family members, teachers and others who know the teen well.
The recent Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, based on a novel by Jay Asher, has called attention to the problem of teen suicide. The show is controversial as some believe the focus on a young girl’s struggle with suicide may actually glamorize the problem or encourage copycat behaviors. It’s crucial that adults stay informed and are aware of the growing problem.
Springtime is the time of year when the highest number of suicide attempts among teens takes place. It coincides with the pressures of final exams, fears related to college entrance or other future plans and, sometimes, the worries related to such events as proms and other social events.
Some warning signs that a teen may be contemplating suicide include:
- • Talking or joking about suicide
- • Speaking about death or saying they’d be better off dead
- • Writing about death, dying or suicide
- • Engaging in risky behavior that causes them to be injured
- • Giving away prized possessions
- • Seeking out weapons or pills
- • Saying goodbye to friends and family members
How We Can Help
Grandparents and parents can play a role in identifying teen depression and become champions of hope and recovery. Here are some ways we can support teens suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide:
- • Focus on listening to the teen, not teaching, reprimanding or lecturing.
- • Be persistent in talking with them about the things they’re feeling.
- • Accept their feelings and don’t try to change their minds. Acknowledging their pain and sadness can build trust.
- • Since you know the teen well, trust your instincts in noticing dangerous behaviors and attitudes and directing the teen toward help via a counselor, teacher, or mental health professional.
- • Do your best to keep the teen engaged in positive activities such as sports, clubs, or volunteer work. Isolation is the enemy of the depressed teen.
- • Spend time with the teen. Talking without distractions can play a big role in helping the teen come to grips with problems.
- • Depressed teens need adequate nutrition, sleep and clear boundaries related to their social lives. They need a “safety net” in which to live.
Become familiar with available mental health support systems. Below, find help lines and other sources of support for teens who may be suicidal.
In the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK
Outside the U.S. www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres