After a decline in the 1990s, the number of young people that commit suicide has been increasing every year. While no one can explain exactly why, many experts say adolescents and teens today probably face more pressures at home or school, worry about financial issues for their families, and use more alcohol and drugs. “This is a very dangerous time for our young people,” Kathy Harms, a staff psychologist at Kansas City’s Crittenton Children’s Center, told the Portland Press Herald. “We’re seeing more anxiety and depression in children of all ages.”
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
About 20 percent of all teens experience depression before they reach adulthood.
Between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.
Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it.
Some teens are more at risk for depression and suicide than others. These are known factors:
Female teens develop depression twice as often than men.
Abused and neglected teens are especially at risk.
Adolescents who suffer from chronic illnesses or other physical conditions.
Teens with a family history of depression or mental illness. Between 20 to 50 percent of teens suffering from depression have a family member with depression or some other mental disorder.
Teens with untreated mental or substance-abuse problems. Approximately two-thirds of teens with major depression also battle another mood disorder like dysthymia, anxiety, antisocial behaviors, or substance abuse.
Young people who experienced trauma or disruptions at home, including divorce and deaths of parents.
In an article in the Portland Press Herald by Laura Bauer and Mara Rose Williams, experts say teens seem to feel more hopeless than in previous years. Tony Jurich, a professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, told the newspaper, “Teens think they are invincible, so when they feel psychological pain, they are more apt to feel overwhelmed by hopelessness and the belief that they have no control over their lives.” Jurich calls these feelings of hopelessness and helplessness “the Molotov cocktail that triggers teen suicide.”
A new study led by Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, finds that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age did that were surveyed back during the era of the Great Depression. Twenge, who is also the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -and More Miserable Than Ever Before, analyzed the responses of over 77,000 college students surveyed from 1938 through 2007.
An Unprepared Generation?
Some of the experts believe that we have raised our teens to have unrealistic expectations. Along with the messages from modern media sources that suggest that we should always feel good, they say many parents haven’t taught their kids the kind of coping skills they need to survive in chaotic times.
Stressed Out Kids
“In my opinion, it’s all of the above and more,” writes Therese J. Borchard, author of Beyond Blue. “Most experts would agree with me that there is more stress today than in previous generations. Stress triggers depression and mood disorders, so that those who are predisposed to it by their creative wiring or genes are pretty much guaranteed some symptoms of depression at the confusing and difficult time of adolescence. I think modern lifestyles -lack of community and family support, less exercise, no casual and unstructured technology-free play, less sunshine and more computer -factors into the equation.”
Borchard also wonders about the role of environmental factors such as diets of American processed fast foods and the possibility of increased exposure to toxins. She speculates that even if our brains are similar to research subjects in the past, our hectic lifestyles, environmental toxins, and other challenges may increase the stress factors that contribute to depression.
Intervention and Treatment
In the pages of her book, Ms. Borchard describes her own battle with depression and alcohol abuse as a teenager. “I could have very easily become one of the statistics -one of those deaths from teenage suicide that happens every 100 minutes,” she writes. “What saved me? The loving intervention of a few adults in my life at that time. They saw the red flags, such as these, warning signs of teen depression that scream, ‘Wake up! We have a problem on our hands.’”
In an article for World of Psychology, Borchard lists these common indicators of depression among teens:
Sadness or hopelessness
Sluggishness (less active)
Spending more time alone (this includes time alone from you as parents and time away from their regular friends)
Decrease in desire to do things they used to like to do (sports, activities, hobbies)
Problems in school (falling grades, getting into trouble, not paying attention in class)
Talking about death or suicide (never to be taken lightly)
Not caring about appearance
Running away from home
Risks of Suicide
Any threat of suicide should be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, please call 911 immediately.
If you do not live in the U.S., please call your local emergency number. Help is always available. Stay on the phone with the operator and wait for help to arrive.
Remember (or remind the one you love) that other people care. If you are not in immediate danger, but want to talk with someone about your suicidal feelings, you can call the National Hopeline Network for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433. Recognizing the red flags could save a life.
A Cry for Help
“As a parent, I didn’t notice the difference between depression and normal 15- and 16-year-old behavior until after the fact,” Tracy Peter told the Portland Press Herald. Her son killed himself when he was only 16. “What if I had recognized the signs?” she wonders. Jurich calls hopelessness and helplessness “the Molotov cocktail that triggers teen suicide.”
“Now let’s get to the hope,” Borchard says. “According to teendepression.org, 80 percent of teens with depression can be successfully treated if they seek the right help. I am part of that statistic. Teen depression doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of struggle, and it certainly doesn’t have to end in suicide.”
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