Phone icon circle

What Parents Can Do To Combat Teen Depression and Suicide

Depression is a serious illness that knows no age limits. Between 4 and 8 percent of adolescents experience depression. Of those, 35 to 50 percent make a suicide attempt. Christina Padden, a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who specializes in working with children and adolescents, discusses what you can do to protect your child.

Q: What is depression?

Christina: A loss of interest or pleasure in activities, or a depressed mood for most of the day, every day for at least two weeks. Changes in motivation, sleep, appetite, energy, and concentration, as well as feelings of guilt or worthlessness, or thoughts of death, are also symptoms.

Q: What symptoms are unique to children and teenagers?

Christina: Kids are more likely to be irritable or have angry outbursts and behavior problems. They don’t always have the words, ability, or insight to say that they feel sad. The younger the individual, the more behavioral symptoms you may see. I also have parents who come into our mental health or pediatrics departments because their child isn’t doing well socially or academically. What can look like laziness can actually be depression.

Q: When should parents be worried?

Christina: If your child is exhibiting signs of depression, bring them in to be evaluated by a professional. Enabling kids to access the resources they need for good mental health can only help them. More severe symptoms that indicate an adolescent might be seriously contemplating a suicide attempt and need immediate intervention include:

  • Displaying feelings of loneliness or hopelessness
  • Distancing themselves from friends and family
  • Coping using drugs and alcohol
  • Integrating death into art, writing, or music
  • Researching a suicide plan, making threats of suicide, or saying goodbye
  • Changing their attitude, behavior, personality, or hygiene.

Q: What types of events can be triggers?

Christina: There are many triggers for depression and suicide that may be hard for adults to understand. I see a lot of teens who break up with a significant other and attempt suicide. Feeling overwhelmed or stressed at school can also be a trigger. Teenagers are at a developmental stage where it’s hard for them to see that these things get better.

Q: What precautions can parents take to protect their children?

Christina: Positive parent-child relationships are critical to helping prevent or manage depression. Find time for one-on-one activities. Learn about your teen, talk, and ask questions. A supportive group of friends and participation in school sports, music, or religious groups are also protective. Ongoing parental supervision and monitoring can help you know when to intervene. Also, lock up or remove medications and weapons.

Q: Does asking about suicide increase the risk of suicide?

Christina: No, asking about suicide does not cause an increase in suicidal thoughts. While it can be a hard conversation, it’s important to say the word “suicide” and to ask your child if they are having suicidal thoughts. If they are having suicidal thoughts, contact a professional who can help develop a safety plan to ensure the child is, and remains, safe.

Q: What treatments can help adolescents?

Christina: Counseling helps children and teens build healthy coping skills, change the negative thought patterns, and improve communication within their families. It can be quite effective. For moderate to severe depression, we often recommend medication in addition to counseling.

Q: Are antidepressants really okay to use?

Christina: There is an established but very rare risk of an increase in suicidal thoughts among teens who take antidepressants. Some studies have not supported this connection. For the vast majority of people, the benefits of the medicine outweigh the risks. Teens on medication generally feel more motivated and brighter, and see a decrease in suicidal thoughts, within a few weeks.

Q: What do you wish depressed teens knew?

Christina: You’ll get better. This is temporary. Maybe you don’t feel hope right now, but there is hope out there for you. There are treatments that work. I see people who have been through this and who have come out the other side and are living happy lives.

Christina Padden holds a master’s in nursing and has been working in psychiatric inpatient and community mental health since 2007.

 

Resources

Clark County Mental Health Crisis Line: 360-696-9560
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
LGBTQ Helpline: 866-488-7386
Text message helpline: Text START 741741