Depression and suicide are difficult topics to think about but in today’s world it is a very important topic to discuss. We must recognize that teenage suicide has become a bigger public health concern over time. It is the second most common cause of death in persons ages 10-24 years and the rates are on the rise. Studies show that the rise of smartphones and social media are contributing factors for this increase. Now don’t get me wrong, I use technology as much as anyone else and it is a wonderful thing to an extent. Social media and cell phones have led to sleep deprivation, cyberbullying, and FOMO (fear of missing out) in young people who dont understand how to develop healthy boundaries. This can quickly lead to thoughts of depression and anxiety. One study showed that the teens who spent a significantly higher amount of time on their phone were 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who spent the least amount of time on their phones. So if you have thought of limiting your childs screen time, this should be the motivation you need to act!
We take our patient’s mental health seriously at PAA and you may notice that we are handing out a short questionnaire at your adolescent’s checkups (12 and up). We are screening for depressive symptoms that may not otherwise be recognized. Your child may get a longer questionnaire if they screen positively on the initial questionnaire. Please allow your child to answer these in confidence and if you get the sense that your child would be more likely to open up to us without you in the room, feel free to excuse yourself to the waiting room.
What should you do if you suspect that your child is depressed or suicidal? Look for the following symptoms: excessive sleepiness or insomnia, loss of joy in previously enjoyable activities, appetite loss, decline in academic performance, or dramatic personality changes. If your child is actively suicidal, you need to seek immediate attention for them at an emergency room or inpatient mental health facility to keep them safe. If you suspect that your child is struggling with depression, try to talk to them about it. We are happy to have you come and talk to us about these issues or concerns in the office as well and we can help get you connected to mental health experts. Medication can sometimes be indicated for these issues but getting in to therapy and counseling is the way to find the root of the problem and to work towards curing the illness. Also make sure that you safely secure anything that could be used as a weapon in the house (guns, knives, etc).
So what can you do as a parent to help your child? Be open and honest with your child. Let them know that perfection is not expected of them and that it is ok to not be ok. Most importantly of all, be available, attentive, and a good listener. Put down the phone, turn off of the TV, and be fully present to have a serious discussion with them. Teenagers may act surly and grumpy but deep down they are craving for acceptance and attention as they figure out their place in the world. Your job as a parent is to be able to help support, encourage, and guide them.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are something to take seriously in adolescents and it can be difficult to tell if an adolescent is struggling with this. In a recent study, as many as 18% of adolescents reported to have seriously considered suicide. That’s almost 1 in 5! The study also found that over 50% of parents were unaware of their adolescent’s thoughts of suicide. It is difficult to help your child fight a battle when you are not even aware there is a battle to be fought! With the appropriate recognition and willingness to talk to your child, I believe that this statistic can be improved. So keep an eye out and be aware that our adolescents need us to be ready to jump in to the battle and help them fight more often than we think!
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression/suicidal thoughts, please use the following resources for help and information www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
By Scott Tracy, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Parent-Adolescent Agreement About Adolescents Suicidal Thoughts, Jason Jones et al, Published in Pediatrics 1/2019
Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time, Jean Twenge et al, Published Clinical Psychological Science 11/2017