At first glance, youth suicide statistics would not appear to be as alarming as one might suspect given the amount of publicity the problem receives. As of 2011, the suicide rate for individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 was at 7.8 per 100,000 people, which in raw numbers means that 4,000 to 5,000 American adolescents took their own lives during that year. As tragic as these events are for the families forced to endure them, in a nation of more than 300 million people, this does not seem like an overwhelming death toll. But while the number of young people who commit suicide is relatively modest, if we look deeper below the surface the picture changes radically. According to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2012, approximately 1 out of every 12 adolescents and young adults has attempted suicide on at least one occasion while 1 out of 6 have contemplated doing so at some point in time. Even if suicide itself among adolescents is not an epidemic, it appears that suicidal thoughts are. As we look for explanations for this disturbing trend, it is interesting to note that the percentage of young people suffering from clinical depression (1 out of 5) is very comparable to the percentage who have considered killing themselves. The convergence of these numbers is far from coincidental, and there is no question that depression is a primary reason so many young people are becoming desperate enough to contemplate their own demise. Parents need to be aware of the signs of teen depression, which, in its most extreme form, can be a life-threatening illness. But even if things don’t reach such an advanced state of crisis, teen depression is still a serious medical condition that will disrupt and damage the lives of its young victims in many ways.
A Parent’s Guidebook to Teen Depression
Here are ten signs that could very well indicate an adolescent is struggling with depression:
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other favorite activities: depressed people lose motivation and have difficulty finding enjoyment in formerly pleasurable practices.
- Sudden tendency to neglect regular duties or responsibilities: previously diligent young people begin to forget chores, start showing up late for school (if they show up at all), and repeatedly make promises that they fail to keep.
- Changes in eating habits: while some depressed teens may show signs of losing their appetites, increases in food consumption, especially of substances that are high in sugars and fats, are probably a better indicator of trouble since people tend to turn to food for comfort and pleasure when they are feeling down or blue.
- Complaints about mysterious physical pain: it is a curious phenomenon, but those who are suffering from depression are often stricken with anomalous aches and pains that appear to have no obvious physical cause.
- Indecisiveness: adolescents are usually decisive to the point of rashness, which is why a sudden inability to make simple life choices or finalize plans of action could indicate something is seriously amiss.
- Strong feelings of guilt: depressed teens are not in a good place emotionally, and they may blame themselves when things go wrong at home or they may feel guilty because they think they are letting others down with their lethargic and unmotivated behavior.
- Insomnia: emotional problems almost invariably affect sleeping patterns, and depressed people frequently go to sleep late and wake up late—if they can go to sleep at all.
- Obsession with relatively passive activities (spending inordinate amounts of time online visiting social networking sites, playing video games for hours on end, or watching television compulsively): this type of activity represents a desperate attempt to escape and has little to do with actually seeking enjoyment.
- Changes in grades at school: in most cases an adolescent’s performance in school will suffer noticeably when depression is present.
- Indications of the use of drugs or alcohol: substance abuse thrives on misery because those who are suffering through intense emotional pain or turmoil will often turn to intoxicants to help them cope.
Healing and Redemption
Parents need to talk to their kids about what is going on in their lives in every circumstance. However, these dialogues can be especially important for depressed teens who may not know exactly what is wrong with them and may therefore have difficulty asking for help all on their own. Young people can be stressed or worried about many different things, but if they report feelings of emptiness or meaninglessness, this is a strong sign that depression is present and has become the dominant force in an adolescent’s life. Teens in this situation need psychological or psychiatric intervention, and the sooner they are given the chance to talk to a caring professional about what they have been experiencing the better off they will be. Depression is highly curable at any age, and young people can be especially resilient when their depression is acknowledged and treated with compassion and understanding.