The recent suicide of Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Church’s Pastor Rick Warren, has brought renewed attention to the issue of depression and the tragic implications it can have for many young people and their families.
Research studies have estimated that one in eight adolescents may be suffering from depression. Unfortunately, only about 30% of young people facing mental problems ever receive any type of treatment or intervention. The result of this lack of understanding about, and attention to this problem can be seen in the approximately 4,600 suicides among young people between the ages of 10 and 24 each year, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Suicide, and thoughts of committing suicide, is more widespread in this age group than most people realize. A nationwide survey reported that 16% of students reported having seriously considered taking their own life sometimes in the previous year, and 8% reported actually having attempted suicide.
The CDC reports more than 150,000 young people are treated in emergency rooms each year for self-inflicted injuries.
“The challenge in dealing with this issue is that parents may not recognize the signs of serious depression in their child, or may find it impossible to believe that their child could be even thinking of something as drastic as suicide,” observed David Kaplan, Ph.D. and Chief Professional Officer for the American Counseling Association.
“Most teens will appear moody and withdrawn at times,” Dr. Kaplan noted, “and that can make it difficult for parents or friends to recognize when the problem is more serious than a teen simply reacting normally to the pressures of school, puberty, relationships and all
the other life issues today’s teen faces.”
Dr. Kaplan explained that clinical depression, as opposed to just normal moodiness or irritability, is often described as an exaggeration of the duration and intensity of “normal” mood changes. He said that a mental health professional will work with a checklist of signs and behaviors, and that when a number of symptoms are being seen on a daily basis for more than two weeks, clinical depression is a very real possibility. Seeing multiple symptoms of depression, repeatedly displayed over a short period of time, is a good indicator to parents that their child may be facing issues that require professional help.
Such symptoms can include sad, empty or anxious moods, trouble concentrating and remembering things, severe changes in eating and sleeping, loss of interest in ordinary activities, decreased energy and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and pessimism.
“Of course,” Dr. Kaplan advises, “when a teen begins to talk about or express excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness, or reports thinking about death and suicide, parents need to seek help as soon as possible.”
If a parent suspects that an adolescent is struggling with depression, there are positive ways to help. Just encouraging your child to share their thoughts and feelings can make a difference. The secret is to listen to their concerns without being judgmental. You want to acknowledge that you understand the pain and suffering they may be feeling. A parent may want to share similar experiences or feelings that he or she has experienced, while being careful not to minimize the concerns and worries that the child is currently feeling.
If a parent feels a child may be facing clinical depression, help is available from a counseling professional who specializes in adolescent developmental changes. A school counselor can assist your child in better understanding what he or she is facing, and can provide direction to help in dealing with the pressures and problems of the adolescent years. The counselor can also help parents understand what their child is going through, and can offer assistance for dealing with their child’s issues.
Teenage depression, not so long ago, was a problem often overlooked by parents, schools and mental health professionals. Thanks to increased depictions on TV shows, reports in the media, and interest in social media, depression among teens gets more attention today. There are now a number of online sources, for example, where parents can learn more about this problem and how to help their teen. On good web site linking to a large number of resources is on the “Cry for Help” section of the Public Broadcasting System at www.pbs.org/wnet/cryforhelp/episodes/resources/hotlines-and-web-sites-for-parents/8/
When parents pay attention to the mood swings that their teen displays, especially when they are extreme and continue for extended periods of time, they may be able to recognize growing problems before it’s too late. Talking to your teen then is important to do, but when the problems seem severe, seeking out your child’s school counselor or other mental health professional can be an important step to getting your teen back on track and fully enjoying his or her adolescence.