Conversations & Consciousness about Teenage Depression & Suicide

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A parent listens as her teen talks about his feelings.

Depression and suicide are not easy topics for me to talk about, but I’m hoping that sharing at least part of my family’s story can help those who are struggling.  Several years ago, my family experienced a series of traumatic events.  Those events left myself experiencing clinical anxiety that evolved into depression, and left one of my children facing clinical depression and multiple attempts at suicide.  Out of an abundance of respect for his privacy, I will not share the details of those events or the resulting impact.  (The photo above is also not of that teen.)  What I will share are some tips that are from a combination of what I’ve learned through seeking treatment and support for him and myself, as well as information from the Child Mind Institute.

An Ongoing Crisis

The problem of depression and suicide in youth is not a new phenomenon.  Suicide rates among youth aged 10-27 have increased dramatically since 2007, with some studies showing as much as a 60% increase.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2007 the suicide rate for this age group was 6.8 per 100,000.  By 2018 that number had increased to 10.7 per 100,000.  

Of course we all want to know why, but the truth is there isn’t much data to solidly confirm the causes.  Some people indicate an increase in social media use as the cause, but not all countries with an increase in social media use have seen suicide increases.  Currently, one factor that many experts see as a cause for concern is the pandemic.  While there have been no wide-spread studies on the effects of the pandemic on mental health in youth, there have been CDC surveys and anecdotal reports from doctors supporting the concern.  Add to the pandemic a list of other contributing factors such as racial and economic injustice and inequity, a struggling economy, and a healthcare system that often does not provide enough mental health support, and we have a perfect storm for the crisis we’re facing.  

What Can We Do?

With all this dire news, what can we do as adults to support each other and the youths in our lives?  The first thing we need to do is to be aware of signs of depression and warning signs of suicidal thoughts and ideations.  Warning signs for each, according to The Child Mind Institute, and tips on what to do can be found below.  

Signs of Depression

  • Unusual sadness or irritability, persisting even when circumstances change
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Reduced feelings of anticipation
  • Changes in weight
  • Shifts in sleep patterns
  • Sluggishness
  • Harsh self-assessment (“I’m ugly. I’m no good. I’ll never make friends.”)
  • Feelings of worthlessness/ hopelessness
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

(Miller, 2021, para. 6)

What to Do:

  • Take note of these symptoms, their severity and frequency.
  • If symptoms are impacting quality of life, or if they continue for two weeks or more, seek help.
  • If the person is suicidal seek help immediately.

 

Signs a Teen or Young Adult May be Suicidal

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Reckless behavior
  • Dropping grades
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Giving away belongings
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Talking about being a burden to others or not belonging
  • Talking about suicide or wanting to die
  • Writing or drawing about suicide, or acting it out in play

(Ehmke, 2021, para. 3)

What to Do:

  • Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide.  Some people avoid this because they fear it will make the person think more about attempting suicide.  Research shows this is not true.  I can attest to this.  Asking my son if he is thinking about suicide has literally saved his life more than once.
  • If a person is actively attempting suicide call 911 immediately.
  • If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations call for support:
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255  
    • In Boulder County Colorado call 1-844-493-TALK or text TALK to 38255.                          This will get you in touch with Boulder County Mental Health Partner’s 24/7 Crisis Line.

Educate Yourself

The rate of suicide and depression among young people in the United States has hit a crisis level.  Educating yourself about how to recognize and seek help for both is a good place to start for changing that.  Of course, there are other steps we can take.  Be sure to see our next CALMING KIDS Blog and Newsletter for mainstream and mindful solutions that can help build resilience and help ease feelings of depression.  

 

Sources:

Miller, C. (n.d.) Signs of Depression During the Pandemic. Child Mind Institute, Inc.  Retrieved February 23, 2021 from https://childmind.org/article/signs-of-depression-during-coronavirus-crisis/

Ehmke, R. (n.d.) Signs a Child Might Be Suicidal. Child Mind Institute, Inc.  Retrieved February 23, 2021 from https://childmind.org/article/signs-a-child-might-be-suicidal/

Dastagir, A. (2020, September 11) More young people are dying by suicide, and experts aren’t sure why. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/09/11/youth-suicide-rate-increases-cdc-report-finds/3463549001/

Dastagir, A. (2020, August 13). The pandemic is taking a toll on Americans’ mental health. A new CDC study shows who we need to worry about most. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/08/13/covid-19-takes-mental-toll-youth-minorities-essential-workers/3365719001/

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