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Teen suicide: Don’t ignore signs

Teen depression and suicide is a touchy topic. It doesn’t get talked about much until it’s too late, after another young life is suddenly cut short.

It needs to be addressed more. Parents need to know how to recognize the danger signs. Teens need to know they are not alone, that help and support are available. The community needs to know that this is too big of a problem to ignore.

Research studies have estimated that one in eight adolescents may be suffering from depression, according to the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals.

Unfortunately, only about 30 percent of young people facing mental problems ever receive any type of treatment or intervention.

The ACA points out that the result of this lack of understanding about the 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.

Suicide, and thoughts of committing suicide, are more widespread in this age group than one may think.

A nationwide survey reported that 16 percent of students reported having seriously considered taking their own life sometimes in the previous year, and 8 percent 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,” said Dr. David Kaplan, chief professional officer for the ACA.\“Most teens will appear moody and withdrawn at times and that can make it difficult for parents or friends to recognize when the problem is more serious than a teen simply reacting normally to the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.”

What are some warning signs?

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, according to the ACA.

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,” 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, the ACA says there are positive ways to help:

-- 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.

A number of online resources are available to help parents learn more about depression and how to help their teen. One good website linking to a large number of resources is on the “Cry for Help” section of the Public Broadcasting System. -- Alexandria Echo Press