Typical teen angst may be the subject of many jokes, but teenage depression is very real. Unfortunately, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth between 10 and 19 years of age, surpassed only by accidents and homicides. It remains a growing health concern.
According to new research, heightened newspaper coverage following a suicide could have a significant impact on teen suicide clusters. A study published last month in Lancet Psychiatry seems to suggest a correlation between heightened media exposure and suicide. Detailed, sensationalized suicide stories are often correlated with copycat incidents. It may not be intentional, but it seems that the media may be sensationalizing suicide. This could be especially detrimental to impressionable teenage minds.
It is no surprise that the media has a powerful influence over teenage behavior. This is evidenced by young people’s body image issues, underage drinking and drug use. It appears that when young people are repeatedly exposed to pictures and stories, they tend to accept them as a part of their reality.
But teen suicide is often preventable. Youth who are contemplating it usually give warning signs of their distress. It is vital never to take any warning signs for granted. As soon as a young person begins displaying them, a child psychiatrist should be called so an evaluation can be done. Sometimes just having someone neutral like a therapist to confide in is all it takes, while sometimes other behavioral therapy and medication are needed to help restore a teen’s sound mental health and happiness.
It is impossible to determine which depressed teens will resort to suicide and which won’t. Therefore, every warning sign must be taken seriously. Some common signs are:
- Changes in personality and behavior. They may become unfocused at school and work, have trouble completing routine tasks and appear sad, irritable, withdrawn, anxious or apathetic.
- A recent loss such as death, divorce or a broken relationship.
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
- Any mention of dying, disappearing or self-harm.
- Changes in weight, either by lack of appetite or overeating.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Low self-esteem, feeling guilty or worthless.
- A sense of hopelessness and despair.
Every young person is at risk for becoming depressed. However, certain characteristics are associated with increased suicide risk. They include:
- Previous mental illness and depression
- Substance abuse
- Family stress and dysfunction
- Environmental risks
- Situational crises (the traumatic death of a loved one, abuse, or family violence)
If you suspect your preteen or teen might be depressed and considering suicide, look into behavioral health services in your area. Dr. Tucker’s areas of expertise include depression and other mood disorders, and he has offices in Costa Mesa, California and Plano, Texas.