The teenage years are stressful, difficult and overwhelming for many adolescents. A teenager is under a great deal of pressure to succeed in school performance, meet parental expectations and be welcomed by their peers. Many teens may also be dealing with poverty, child abuse, bullying, personal issues about sexual orientation and parent divorces, all of which can lead to depression.
A teenager with a family history of depression may be at a greater risk of developing teen depression and suicide. Teens with other mental disorders, such as an eating disorder and/or substance abuse, could be at a higher risk of becoming depressed. The rate of depression among teenagers is increasing and occurs more often than many people are aware of.
According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), as many as one out of eight teenagers experiences the symptoms of depression and only 20% of those who are depressed, ever receive treatment.
Signs & Symptoms of Teen Depression
The transition a teen makes while entering adulthood, often brings with it bouts of moodiness, confusion, sadness and/or anger, making it often difficult to distinguish between the expected mood swings and depression. A teen suffering with depression may also mask their symptoms making it even more difficult to distinguish between the two. It is important to note that a teen’s depression, does not typically display exactly the same symptoms as a depressed adult. Signs that a teen may be depressed include:
- A sudden change in appetite, weight gain/weight loss
- Risky sexual behavior
- Unexplained physical pains, including backache, stomach ache & headaches
- Substance abuse
- Lack of concentration
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness/sadness
- Frequent crying
- Loss of interest in activities
- Lack of motivation/enthusiasm
- Social withdraw, may isolate from family or change circle of friends
- Thoughts of suicide and/or death
- Aggression/irritability and/or rage
- Difficulty making decisions
- Skipping school/change in grades
- Self injury
Teen Depression and Suicide
Research has shown that 90% of those who die due to suicide were suffering with a mental illness and/or substance abuse at the time of their death according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among teens and young adults aged 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death; 12% of annual deaths for this age range is due to suicide and for every actual suicide among 15-24 year olds there are approximately 100-200 attempts.
A depressed teen does not have the same thoughts as a healthy person and they do not understand why they are experiencing these symptoms, nor do they understand that there are options to help alleviate their pain and suffering. The depression leads these teens to lose their ability to remember previous happiness and prevents them from imagining any happiness in their future. The emotions and physical pain becomes so overwhelming and unbearable. They do not want to die, but feel suicide is the only way to end the unbearable pain.
Thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness increase; the depressed teen becomes irrational, and loses the ability to think clearly, leading to increased thoughts of suicide.
Teen Depression and Suicide: Increased Risk Of Suicide
There are various factors that may increase the risk of teen suicide including:
- A previous suicide attempt
- Dealing with homosexuality in a hostile school environment and/or an unsupportive family
- Physical , verbal and/or sexual abuse
- A family history of suicide and/or depression
- Feelings of irritability, distress or agitation
- A psychological disorder, especially depression, substance abuse and bipolar disorder
- Feelings of worthlessness and/or hopelessness
- Isolation from peers, feelings of social isolation
- Witnesses and/or experiences violence at home
- The lack of a support system
- Poor relationships with family/peers
Teen Suicide: Warning Signs
Teenagers who are depressed are in a very real danger of suicide. They should be closely watched for any signs of suicidal behaviors and/or thoughts. Warning signs that a teen may be thinking about suicide include:
- Writing poems and/or stories about death, suicide or dying
- Giving away their prized possessions
- Seeking out pills, weapons and/or other methods of killing themselves
- Verbalize feelings of hopelessness and/or feelings of guilt
- Distancing themselves from family and friends
- Difficulties concentrating or thinking clearly
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- Engaging in reckless behavior or increased accidents with injury
- Romanticizing or speaking positively about death and dying ( i.e. "if I die, people might love me more")
- Making comments such as “there is no way out of this”, “would be better off dead” or “I wish I could disappear forever”.
- Begin or increase self destructive behaviors such as fast driving, risky sexual behavior and/or substance abuse
- Lose their desire to participate in favorite hobbies or activities
- Talk about death or suicide in a general sense
- Saying goodbye to family and/or friends
- Make comments about going away
- Talking and/or joking about committing suicide
The majority of teens who have committed suicide, gave some type of warning sign to family and/or friends before their death. Knowing the warning signs and taking the necessary steps, may prevent the death of a teenager. Teens who are depressed should be closely supervised. Parents should discuss concerns with, and let their teen know that the communication lines are open.
If you are a teen or know a teen who is contemplating suicide, contact the suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433 – this is the National Suicide Hotline for the USA) or 1-800 999-9999 (Covenant House toll-free crisis hotline).
If the teen is in a crisis situation your local emergency room will be able to provide a psychiatric evaluation and supply you with appropriate resources.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Suicide https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide-DataSheet-a.pdf
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: Suicide prevention and Depression https://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705F4071-99A7-F3F5-E2A64A5A8BEAADD8
Help Guide: Teen Depression. A guide for parents & teachers. https://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm
Kids Health: About Teen Suicide https://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/suicide.html