Teens & Suicide

Adolescent Depression & Suicide


Asking about suicidal thoughts does not “implant” those thoughts into someone’s mind. Indeed, having someone to talk to about them makes them less likely to be acted upon. If you think you or someone you know might be depressed or thinking about suicide, talk to them about it and PLEASE ask us or their own doctor for help.

DEPRESSION is a a common disease among teenagers, the most severe complication of which is suicide. It is highly treatable, thus suicide is preventable. However, it is commonly unrecognized, under-diagnosed, or not treated. Family members, friends, coworkers, and even physicians too often downplay symptoms of depression which are readily apparent.

Depression can happen to anybody, although it is most common among those with a family history of depression, women in the first year after childbirth, and in adolescents, both boys and girls. It is not a choice or a character flaw. It is not normal or simply “adolescent turmoil”. It nobody’s “fault”.

SYMPTOMS of depression may include:

  • Irritability
  • Persistent negative mood
  • Decreased pleasure in life activities
  • Helplessness/Hopelessness
  • Impaired school/job performance
  • Decreased attention span (often misdiagnosed as ADHD)
  • Self blame/worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreased motivation/energy
  • Poor sleep and/or appetite
  • Behavior difficulties
  • Physical symptoms with no apparent cause.

Depression responds to counseling and to a wide variety of medications which are very safe. Often such medications can be prescribed by your primary care doctor rather than a psychiatrist. The average depressive episode lasts 7 months. While most depressive episodes get better, there is a 90% relapse rate. Most adolescents with depression continue to struggle with it at times into adulthood.

Suicide rates overall in America, and among teenagers in particular, have increased remarkably over the last 25 years! Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 13-19yr olds. While girls are more likely to attempt suicide, when boys do attempt it they are 3-4x more likely to succeed. In 40% of successful suicides there is a history of prior attempt. Most teenagers who attempt suicide try to communicate their intent to someone in advance.

Risk Factors which make suicide more likely include a history of suicide in peers or family members, white race, high IQ, affluent family, poor self esteem, conflicts with authority figures, social isolation, and recent life disappointments. Risk factors which make suicide attempts more likely to succeed are mainly access to guns. Guns should never be kept in homes with teenagers!