Suicide Is The Number One Cause Of Death In Young People
Sadly, suicide is the number one cause of death in young people, 15-24 years old, and by 2020 depression will become the number one cause of disability worldwide. It should be noted that 1 in 5 teens will suffer from depression before they reach adulthood. And In 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S.A had experienced at least one episode of major depression in the past year. This represented 6.7 percent of all American adults.
Communicate With Your Child Openly
It is a common belief that if you ask someone if they are considering suicide, you may actually instill that idea in them. However, it has been found that being open and unafraid of inquiring about it when somebody seems depressed might be the only way to get help, and therefore, be more likely to prevent suicide.
A Window Of Opportunity
In the mind of the patient suffering from depression, there is a window of opportunity that allows for intervention. It is during this time that a decision to do something to kill themselves has not been made yet. Teenagers, as we all know, have a more difficult time to talk about how they feel than adults. The most common answer to the question ‘how was your day?’ is typically ‘fine’. That is a normal response from a teenager who is preoccupied with his or her own developmental challenges. However, that should not discourage parents to ask questions which can create opportunities for a dialogue to occur. Just because your teen might signal that he or she does not want to talk about things that preoccupy them- does not mean that you, as a parent, must accept the notion that there is nothing to talk about.
Your Attitude About Psychiatric Treatment Makes A Difference
Before I review several signs that could alert parents that something more serious than normal development may be happening with their teen, I have to share some of my concerns about parents’ attitude with regard to psychiatric treatment. More often than not, your child will mimic your attitude about mental illness, and model your understanding and acceptance of it. When you, as a parent, have been disparaging about people with mental illness and/or treatment of it, either denying its existence or denigrating those with mental illness who seek help as weak- do not be surprised to learn that your child might not be forthcoming with their feelings or concerns.
Young Adult Body And Mind Changes
Because young adults are still growing and developing, many teens and young adults do not have the language necessary to discuss their emotional states in words. Especially with their parents, teens are even more unlikely to talk about their insecurities or feelings for fear of being considered ‘crazy’, or ‘weak’ or ‘not worthy’ of your love.
Play It Safe-Take Your Child Seriously
Unfortunately, I see way too many parents who do not take seriously their children’s complaints of sadness, lack of interest, energy or extreme worries. These symptoms need to be evaluated by a professional to explore their seriousness so that, if needed, they can be addressed in treatment; either with medication, therapy, or both. Since parents are the decision makers in the administration of their children’s treatment- they need to keep in mind that they are not the ones who are directly experiencing the pain of depression, anxiety or other mental illness.
Resources That Can Help Your Child
A good resource for understanding when to become concerned about your teen is the ‘Facts For Families,’ guide which details the signs that could alert a parent about the possibility of a suicide. These are as follows:
- change in eating and sleeping habits
- withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
- violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
- drug and alcohol use
- unusual neglect of personal appearance
- marked personality change
- persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork
- frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc
- loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- not tolerating praise or rewards
As it is noted in the ‘Facts for Families’ guide, the above are also signs of depression and the parents should attempt to get help to prevent a suicide attempt by getting the teen or young adult to participate in a psychiatric consultation.
Other Signs To Look For In Your Child
There are some other changes to look for in your child that may signal imminent danger. These include teen or young adult communicating the following thoughts:
- complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
- give verbal hints with statements such as: I won’t be a problem for you much longer, nothing matters, It’s no use, and I won’t see you again
- put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
- become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
- have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)
There Is Hope If You Take Action
What is important to know, and to remember, is that depression is a treatable disorder, and so is suicidal ideation, as long as we act fast. As I mentioned above, we must act within the window of time that precedes the decision to move from suicidal ‘idea’ to ‘plan’. As also previously stated, once the teen has made the decision to kill himself or herself, their mood usually lifts, becomes less obviously gloomy and more peaceful. This is not an unusual behavior for people, adults or teens alike, who shift their mindset from ‘contemplative’ or more ‘passive’ thoughts of death to an actual active plan for completion of the suicidal act. The bottom line here is that you don’t have to make this decision as to what is safe or not by yourself. It is better to err on the side of caution and discuss with your child the decision to have them evaluated, not as a punishment, but, as a way to help them sort out their thoughts and feelings and begin to find ways to make them feel better.