National Suicide Prevention Week is September 6-12th, with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. Suicide currently ranks as the second leading cause of death amongst those ages 10-24. Suicide is a preventable death. We just have to know what to look for in order to provide the help needed.
Children, teens and young adults have been reporting an increase in depression and anxiety over the past several years. There are many reasons this may be occurring: excessive social media use, increased pressures to succeed, worsening sleep cycles, to name a few.
This year, it’s not surprising that young people are reporting even greater levels of depression and anxiety in the face of COVID-19. They are reporting an increase in loneliness and isolation. Their routines have been disrupted, leading to worse sleep patterns, impaired eating habits and loss of in-person time with their friends.
In order to help children, teens and young adults navigate this challenging and unstable time, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of depression and suicide and know when to step in and get help.
Depression impacts how a young person thinks, feels and behaves. It can lead to emotional, functional and physical issues.
Although a hallmark of adolescence is emotional reactivity, for many teens, the lows brought on by depression is not this. Some signs and symptoms of teen depression can include:
- Feelings of sadness for no apparent reason
- Irritability, frustration, anger (over what might seem small matters)
- Loss of interest in things that used to be pleasurable
- Disinterest in friends
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection/failure and the need for reassurance
- Trouble concentrating and focusing
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
- Excessive fatigue and loss of energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little, leading to weight gain or loss
- Slowed thinking and reactivity
- Somatic complaints (like headaches or stomach aches)
- Less attentive to hygiene
- Impaired academic performance
- Disruptive, risky or acting out behaviors (that are out of character)
- Non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors (cutting, picking at skin, burning self)
- Suicide attempts or planning
Although some of these symptoms are part of being a teenager, there is a qualitative difference that can be observed. If you are concerned about what you are observing, do not be afraid to talk with the young person in your life. Ask them how they are doing and really listen to the answer. Avoid problem solving. Validate their feelings. Encourage them to be open about what might be happening: what makes things better and what makes things worse. Trust your gut. If you believe that something is going on, you’re probably right.
It’s important to reach out for help in whatever way is needed. If you’re concerned that your teen may be suicidal, don’t hesitate to reach out to their therapist and discuss your worries.
Suicide is preventable. During this month of awareness, be open to conversations with your teen about their feelings and ways that they can cope when having intense feelings. It could be a wonderful time to learn for all.
Some resources to explore:
Authored by: Dr. Jennifer Hartstein