All teens are all moody and sad. Right? Wrong. Most are content with their lives, but for one in eight they’ll become so unhappy life does not always seem worth living.
Are you reading this because you are worried about a teen you love? Good for you. Better to worry than to grieve. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 and the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.
PARENT ADVICE ABOUT DEPRESSION IN TEENS
Children are not supposed to die before their parents. A child’s death is a deeply wounding life-blow and for most the wound never fully heals. To me the only worse life-blow would be a child’s death by suicide. So I feel strongly parents need to know a few things about depression and suicide.
Everyone has ups and downs. As the singer Neil Diamond tells it, everyone has a Song Sung Blue. His cure? Sing it out. When the blues can’t be sung away, most likely a depression related mood disorder is operating.
A Great British Statemen suffered from a clinical depression, he once remarked, “I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”
Abraham Lincoln also suffered from depression. He is quoted as saying long before he became President and he had to deal with a civil war, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
He did get better from this particular bout with depression, but was prone most of his life to bouts of blackness.
PARENT ADVICE ABOUT DEPRESSION
Tip one: Depression seems to have a genetic basis so if a family member suffers from depression, has made suicidal gestures, or committed suicide, worry, but also do more than worry—learn about depression and teens, not just here but by some web searching.
Tip two: Learn about the major symptoms of depression and how these vary according to age and stage: Here are the common ways depression manifests developmentally.
- Ages one to three common symptoms are: failure to thrive, sleep problems and feeding problems, tantrums, and lack of playfulness.
- From three to five a depressed child may be accident prone or suffer from phobias. Depressed children may be excessively guilty or full of self reproaches.
- From age six to eight somatic complaints, aggressive behaviors, and low self esteem are the chief markers.
- From nine to twelve, depressed youth day dream, have morbid thoughts, and blame themselves for problems.
- Adolescents are expected to be moody and depressed and therefore are often under diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Adolescent symptoms resemble adult symptoms and include: appetite loss, a sense of hopelessness, oversleeping, and suicidal thoughts.
Tip three: Think about more than just symptoms. Think about severity, domain, and duration. Use a rating scale to think about severity. Suicidal threats, gestures, or serious attempts are all a ten in severity. Nine would be a symptom that disrupts not just the teen’s life, but yours the family’s life and across all domains, meaning everywhere the kid goes. Eight the disruption of symptoms is only within the family but almost every day. Seven, the disruption is weekly. Six, disruption is every two weeks. Five no disruption. Below five be grateful. Get help if the severity scale is at a six or above. This is not a research based scale, just a way to get you thinking.
Tip three: Get help if your heart and head agree you need help. Get help if your heart and head cannot agree.
Let me explain that one. My mental health credentials apply here. I directed mobile mental health crisis teams serving children and teens. My expertize was eventually recognized and I was asked to train all of NY city’s mobile mental health crisis team in deciding whether to leave a child at home or transport him to an emergency room for admission to a mental health unit. My strategy as both a foster parent and a clinician trying to keep depressed children and teens was to listen to both my heart or my gut feelings and my head or my clinical knowledge. Only if two agreed I would know how to act.
Tip four: Even if my heart and head say professional help is not needed, but my worrying about a child kept me awake at night, I sought a higher level expert’s advice. Do the same – make an appointment to discuss your concerns, not with your child’s pediatrician or the family doctor, but with a board certified child psychiatrist.
Tip five: An often missed suicidal child is one called a Class A suicide. This is the child who seems to have everything going for her. When you have everything and still find depression eating at your heart, you can be pushed over the edge for one of two theories.
One says that a life having every thing and still struggling with blackness makes the blackness darker. The second theory says, such a child has never had to struggle with loss, challenge, or pain; he or she, therefore is not able to deal with pain if it comes calling. Probable both are at work.
More information for parents coping with a moody or depressed teen can be found in my book ‘When Good Kids Get Depressed‘, which is volume 11 of the When Good Kids Do Bad Things series. Volume 1 is free.
Parenting is hard work and contending with a child who is depressed demands more than good parenting. Hopefully, the above tips and resources will help you and your child survive this hard time.
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST …
I have published fourteen books on parenting. ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things. A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers‘ is available in print and as an ebook. Shorter ebooks can also be downloaded on specific topics, like lying, crime, running away, clothing wars and many other topics. Or you can learn how to run a successful family meeting or help your child with test anxiety. Meanwhile, don’t forget to take care of yourself with ‘Parents Are People Too – An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents‘ or by reading my Emotional Fitness Training blog where you will find free posters, daily exercises and more.
DISCLAIMER: FORGIVE MY GRAMMATICAL ERRORS FOR I HAVE DYSGRAPHIA. If you need perfect posts, you will not find them here. Dysgraphia is a not well known learning disability and means that sometimes my sentence structure is not that easy to follow or I make other errors. Still, most people understand me. All of my books are professionally edited, but not all of my blog posts are. If this troubles you, feel free to read elsewhere. If you persevere, you are practicing kindness by lifting my spirits for that means you find what I say helpful and that is one of my missions. Kindness always repays those who spread it.