The teenage years are a time to establish identity, and thus a time ripe for confusion and vulnerability. It has become even harder recently with increased incidence of bullying, unrealistic body images portrayed by the media, confusion about gender identity and pressure to drink and try drugs.
Dealing with these issues while adjusting to fluctuating hormone levels is difficult. It is normal for some teens to feel angry, sad or confused at times. However, the warning signs of teenage depression should never be ignored because suicide is the third most common cause of death in this age group.
Each day, 2,000 people in this world end their own life. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the third leading cause of death in people ages 15-24.
Teens are more likely to die from suicide than from homicide in this country. For every two homicides there are three suicides. Some studies show that the number of teens who commit suicide may be falsely low, as suicide by intentional auto accidents, known as “auto-cide” are often reported as unintentional.
Some of the warning signs of impending suicide in teens are talking or joking about death, thoughts about being reunited with a deceased loved one, loss of interest in activities, giving away possessions and behavioral problems. Other signs include risk taking behavior such as drinking, drug use, declining grades in school, withdrawing from family and friends, excessive speeding while driving and carelessness about basic safety. If you hear your teen make statements such as “life is useless” or “I wish I could just disappear,” these may be troublesome signs.
Risk factors for teenage suicide include being diagnosed with depression or psychiatric disorders, family history of depression or suicide, having a firearm in the home, and alcohol or drug use. It is important to remember that depression is often a result of chemical imbalance in the brain and the person suffering from these symptoms is not at fault.
The most important thing you can do is talk to the teen about it. Do not be afraid to bring this subject up.
It is important to get an idea of the seriousness of the situation. You may need to ask questions about specific plans he or she has to end his or her life.
Teenagers with specific plans should be evaluated by the local emergency department immediately. Those who are passively suicidal should still be taken very seriously and need to be seen by a health care professional as soon as possible.
Resources are available to help you and your teen including your pediatrician, your family physician, counselors and the emergency department. If you are worried about someone at risk for suicide, it is important to lock up all firearms and never leave the person alone.
Contact the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800- 273- TALK (8255) or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, where trained professionals are available 24 hours a day.
— Dr. Lee House is an Integrated FM/NMM second year resident.