BY RICK VOAKES, MD
Suicide Can Be Prevented!
Depression and Suicide
Suicide is most often caused by a serious emotional disorder called "depression". This is different from the kind of temporary sadness you get from a bad situation. This is a chemical imbalance in your brain, that makes you feel "depressed" most of the time for no apparent reason. It is a potentially deadly disease, since it often results in suicide attempts, which are sometimes successful attempts (that is, you actually die!).
Teens go through a lot of emotional and physical changes that make them more vulnerable to depression anyway. When their moods disrupt their ability to function on a daily basis, it may indicate the serious condition of psychiatric depression. Recognizing and treating this in time could save your child's life by preventing a possible suicide.
Guns and Suicide
Girls attempt suicide more often than boys, but boys are more likely to die from a suicide attempt, probably because they tend to use guns more often. However, girls are using guns more and more, and are "catching up" to the boys. Many kids with depression also have other emotional and psychological problems, which may increase their impulsiveness. When a teen is very impulsive, he (or she) may act without thinking of the consequences. If he has access to a gun, he might try to use it on himself on an impulse, even if he is not so depressed that he really wants to die. There are also many impulsive girls who are starting to do this as well.
Having a gun in the home increases a teen's risk of suicide by 500%. This is purely because of the "impulsiveness factor". Part of practicing "good gun safety" should include taking guns out of the house and storing them in another location. It also wise to store the ammunition away from the location of the guns.
Facing the Danger of Teen Suicide
Sometimes teens feel so depressed that they consider ending their lives. Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves. The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college age youth.
Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based on long standing problems triggered by a specific event. Suicidal adolescents may view a temporary situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive, self-destructive acts.
1. Moodiness is normal for teens. (Mood swings might be normal, but they should "swing" back to happy pretty often too!)
2. Adolescents always rebel and reject the values of their parents. (Despite differences, a family needs to function as a family!)
3. Teens are too young to be truly depressed. (Obviously not, since suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in teens!)
4. Suicide attempts are just for show and don't mean that the teen will try "for real". (Attempts are the major predictor for "real" suicide!)
5. Asking about suicide or discussing the subject plants the idea. (Discussing suicide is the ONLY WAY to prevent a child from committing suicide. By avoiding the subject, the child is cut off from getting help.)
Recognizing the Warning Signs
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings. Pay attention to these warning signs:
Suicide threats, direct and indirect
Obsession with death
Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
Seeking access to firearms or pills
Obsession with anger, or seeking revenge
Taking needless risks, taking part in risky activities
Dramatic change in personality or appearance
Irrational, bizarre or reckless behavior
Dramatic mood changes
Alcohol or drug use, especially if increasing
Withdrawing from friends and family
Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or reflection
Having no purpose in life, lack of enthusiasm
Feeling trapped, that there is no solution to their problems
Changed eating or sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
Severe drop in school performance
Problems with authority, getting in trouble
Giving away belongings
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 (feeling overly happy) and depression.
Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Some signs of depression may not seem like depression, such as anger or poor grades. 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.
Dr Omar's screen for adolescent depression: Ask a teen to tell you something good about himself or herself. If he can't tell you anything, he may be in trouble. Parents can easily do this screening test on their own child.
Helping Suicidal Teens
Offer help and listen.Encourage depressed teens to talk about their feelings. Listen, don’t lecture.
Trust your instincts.If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek prompt help. Break a confidence if necessary, in order to save a life.
Pay attention to suicidal talk.Ask direct questions and don’t be afraid of frank discussions. Silence is deadly!
Seek professional help.It is essential to seek expert advice from a mental health professional who has experience helping depressed teens. Also, alert key adults in the teen’s life - family, friends and teacher.
It's not unusual for young people to experience "the blues" or feel "down in the dumps" occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life.
Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things "never go their way." They feel "stressed out" and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — on television, at school, in magazines and on the Internet. They are also forced to learn about the threat of AIDS, even if they are not sexually active or using drugs.
Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing.
Dealing With Adolescent Pressures
When teens feel down, there are ways they can cope with these feelings to avoid serious depression. All of these suggestions help develop a sense of acceptance and belonging that is so important to adolescents.
Try to make new friends.Healthy relationships with peers are central to teens’ self-esteem and provide an important social outlet.
Participate in sports, job, school activities or hobbies.Staying busy helps teens focus on positive activities rather than negative feelings or behaviors.
Join organizations that offer programs for young people.Special programs geared to the needs of adolescents help develop additional interests.
Ask a trusted adult for help.When problems are too much to handle alone, teens should not be afraid to ask for help.
But sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, teens become depressed. Many factors can contribute to depression. Studies show that some depressed people have too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Also, a family history of depression may increase the risk for developing depression. Other factors that can contribute to depression are difficult life events (such as death or divorce), side-effects from some medications and negative thought patterns.
Teens may experiment with drugs or alcohol or become sexually promiscuous to avoid feelings of depression. Teens also may express their depression through hostile, aggressive, risk-taking behavior. But such behaviors only lead to new problems, deeper levels of depression and destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or school officials.
Treating Adolescent Depression
It is extremely important that depressed teens receive prompt, professional treatment.Depression is serious and, if left untreated, can worsen to the point of becoming life-threatening. If depressed teens refuse treatment, it may be necessary for family members or other concerned adults to seek professional advice.
Therapy can help teens understand why they are depressed and learn how to cope with stressful situations. Depending on the situation, treatment may consist of individual, group or family counseling. Medications that can be prescribed by a psychiatrist may be necessary to help teens feel better.
Some of the most common and effective ways to treat depression in adolescents are:
Psychotherapyprovides teens an opportunity to explore events and feelings that are painful or troubling to them.
Psychotherapy also teaches them coping skills.
Cognitive-behavioral therapyhelps teens change negative patterns of thinking and behaving.
Interpersonal therapyfocuses on how to develop healthier relationships at home and at school.
Medicationrelieves some symptoms of depression and is often prescribed along with therapy. It should not be given as the only therapy, however, since medication is much less effective than the combination of medication with one of the other therapies listed above.
When depressed adolescents recognize the need for help, they have taken a major step toward recovery. However, remember that few adolescents seek help on their own. They may need encouragement from their friends and support from concerned adults to seek help and follow treatment recommendations.