With it being Suicide Prevention Month, I believe depression is an important topic to discuss. The CDC states suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (2016) 9th through 12th graders report that 17% seriously considered suicide, 13.6% made a plan for how to commit suicide, 8% attempted suicide and 2.7% made suicide attempts requiring medical attention. Sometimes an adolescent’s struggle with depression can be underestimated because of their age. Adolescence is a time when changing hormones can cause mood swings and it is often difficult to tell what is normal adolescent behavior and when a teen is clinically depressed.
Your Teen May Be Depressed if They:
1. Appear Withdrawn and Isolated. Spending more time in their room, away from human contact.
2. Complain of Pain: Headaches, stomach aches, back pain, etc.
3. Experience Problems at School: Difficulty concentrating, poor attendance, or drop in grades.
4. Have Lost Interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies.
5. Have Changes in Sleeping or Eating Habits: Weight gain or weight loss. Sleeping too little, or excessive amounts.
6. Share Excessive Sadness or Hopelessness: Frequent crying or tearfulness.
7. Exhibit Impulsive, Reckless, and Rebellious Behaviors.
8. Abuse Alcohol or Drugs: Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
9. Internet or Smartphone Addiction: Play online games or go online to escape their problems. Excessive technology use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed.
10. Display Irritability, Anger, Violence or Hostility: Depression can present as anger and aggression, particularly in boys.
Now remember some of these signs are normal in moderation. Teens can sleep a lot and eat a lot…they are growing! They rebel against their parents; they are learning how to become independent. Many teens experiment with drugs or alcohol. It’s about mindfully noticing these signs, keeping an eye on them and following up if they persist.
What to Do To Help:
As a parent it can be extremely hard to see your child in pain, so what can you do?
• Take your child seriously.
• Listen with empathy and provide support without judgment. Focus on listening, not lecturing.
• Learn and use Validation skills. Validation does not mean you agree with your child – it means that you hear them.
• Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first.
• Acknowledge their feelings.
• Trust your gut. If your teen won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party.
• Encourage social connection.
• Set aside time to talk to your teen each day.
• Make physical health a priority: exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
• Know when to seek professional help. Research has shown that DBT is the gold standard treatment for suicidality and self-harm. DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is an intensive, highly structured program that’s been adapted specifically for adolescents with extreme emotional instability, including self-harm and suicidal ideation. Our Adolescent DBT Program consists of five modules: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Distress Tolerance and Walking the Middle Path Skills.
If you think someone you know is depressed or suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention.
CDC Vital Signs Article June 7th, 2018
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2016)
JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(8):777-785. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.1109