The recent suicide of 14-year-old Braylee Rice, a student at McCulloch Junior High School in Marion, Ind., who hanged herself with a necktie on the bleachers behind the school, has brought a renewed attention to the issue of depression among youth and the repercussions it can have for families involved.
Suicide and thoughts pertaining to suicide are more widespread in this age group than people suspect. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports approximately 4,600 suicides among young people between the ages of 10 and 24-year-=old.
According to the American Counseling Association a nationwide survey reports that 16 percent of students have seriously considered taking their own life sometime in the previous year, and 8 percent reported actually attempting suicide. The CDC also reports more than 150,000 young people are treated in emergency rooms each year for self-inflicted injuries.
Parents need to grasp that depression is not just teenage mood swings.
“Major depressive disorder goes far beyond typical teen irritability or an occasional mood,” said Laura Choate associate professor of counselor education at Louisiana State University and licensed professional counselor.
What is it?
Researchers report major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by episodes of encompassing low moods, accompanied by low self-esteem and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.
Situational depression is another form of depression among teens. Another term for situational depression is adjustment disorder, according to Choate.
“It involves a situation where the teen has difficulty coping with or adjusting to a particular stressor, such as a major life change,” Choate said.
Risk factors attributed to depression are previous suicide attempts, history of depression or another mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, and family history of suicide or other types of violence.
Another risk factor is bulling via face-to-face or through social media, a suspected cause contributing to Rice taking her life.
“If a person is going through a traumatic time, or dealing with external stressors and they can’t turn to a support network to help them that’s a major factor. That’s where bullying can play a strong role,” said Jim Sprung executive director at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Parents should look for changes over time in their kids as a sign that depression may be taking place.
Sprunger says the diagnosis for major depression are symptoms that don’t go away for longer than two weeks.
“Unless kids are already suffering from major depression they will adapt to those situations and bounce back,” he said. “But if it’s longer than a period of two weeks you may be looking at more of a biological cause.”
During those two weeks the signs that parents should be aware of according to Choate are: changes in eating or sleeping patterns, fatigue, isolation, inability to concentrate, thoughts of worthlessness, guilt and hopelessness that things will never get better.
Parents may feel overwhelmed and not prepared to talk to their child about suicide. In those cases professionals advise caregivers to seek help. A major resource is the Suicide Prevention Hot Line. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) parents can get general questions answered.
“Call and say ‘here is what I am noticing, what should I do?’ This crisis line will help you gather options,” Sprunger said.
In addition, Sprunger advises to reach out to a counselor, medical professional or a community health center to seek help.
Choate said that parents often feel frustrated at their seeming inability to reach their teen. However parents can talk with their teen about their feelings, how they can take actions to make it better, how they can cope, and model how they dealt with similar situations.
“The best intervention parents can take is to notice the signs and symptoms early and to seek treatment before it intensifies,” Choate said.
It gets better
Parents should know that adjustment disorder is common and with support, guidance, and problem solving skills teens can fully recover.
“The situation is different for every family. But we know mental illness is treatable and treatment does work,” Sprunger said. “We are talking about a public health issue that we can address, make strides in and help kids walk through. There is hope!”