Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
- Talking or joking about committing suicide
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
- Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
- Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
- Giving away prized possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
Encouraging a depressed teen to open up
If you suspect that a teenager in your life is suffering from depression, speak up right away. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing in your teenager are signs of a problem.
Whether or not that problem turns out to be depression, it still needs to be addressed—the sooner the better. In a loving and non-judgmental way, share your concerns with your teenager. Let him or her know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then encourage your child to share what he or she is going through.
Your teen may be reluctant to open up; he or she may be ashamed, afraid of being misunderstood. Alternatively, depressed teens may simply have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling.
If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. Remember that denial is a strong emotion. Furthermore, teenagers may not believe that what they’re experiencing is the result of depression.
|Tips for Talking to a Depressed Teen|
Let depressed teenagers know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
Be gentle but persistent
Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Listen without lecturing
Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.
Don’t try to talk your teen out of his or her depression, even if his or her feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness he or she is feeling. If you don’t, he or she will feel like you don't take his or her emotions seriously.
Getting treatment for teen depression
Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that the symptoms will go away. If you see depression’s warning signs, seek professional help.
Make an immediate appointment for your teen to see the family physician for a depression screening. Be prepared to give your doctor specific information about your teen’s depression symptoms, including how long they’ve been present, how much they’re affecting your child’s daily life, and any patterns you’ve noticed. The doctor should also be told about any close relatives who have ever been diagnosed with depression or other mental health disorders. As part of the depression screening, the doctor will give your teenager a complete physical exam and take blood samples to check for medical causes of your child’s symptoms.
Seek out a depression specialist
If there are no health problems that are causing your teenager’s depression, ask your doctor to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents. Depression in teens can be tricky, particularly when it comes to treatment options such as medication. A mental health professional with advanced training and a strong background treating adolescents is the best bet for your teenager’s best care.
When choosing a specialist, always get your child’s input. Teenagers are dependent on parents for making many of their health decisions, so listen to what they’re telling you. No one therapist is a miracle worker, and no one treatment works for everyone. If your child feels uncomfortable or is just not ’connecting’ with the psychologist or psychiatrist, ask for a referral to another provider that may be better suited to your teenager.
Don’t rely on medication alone
Expect a discussion with the specialist you’ve chosen about treatment possibilities for your son or daughter. There are a number of treatment options for depression in teenagers, including one-on-one talk therapy, group or family therapy, and medication.
Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression. Over the course of therapy, your teen’s depression may resolve. If it doesn’t, medication may be warranted. However, antidepressants should only be used as part of a broader treatment plan.
Unfortunately, some parents feel pushed into choosing antidepressant medication over other treatments that may be cost-prohibitive or time-intensive. However, unless your child is considered to be high risk for suicide (in which case medication and/or constant observation may be necessary), you have time to carefully weigh your options before committing to any one treatment.
Risks of teenage antidepressant use
In severe cases of depression, medication may help ease symptoms. However, antidepressants aren’t always the best treatment option. They come with risks and side effects of their own, including a number of safety concerns specific to children and young adults. It’s important toweigh the benefits against the risks before starting your teen on medication.
Antidepressants and the teenage brain
Antidepressants were designed and tested on adults, so their impact on the young, developing brains is not yet completely understood. Some researchers are concerned that the use of drugs such as Prozac in children and teens might interfere with normal brain development. The human brain develops rapidly in young adults, and exposure to antidepressants may impact that development—particularly the way the brain manages stress and regulates emotions.
Antidepressant suicide warning for teens
Antidepressant medications may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some teenagers. All antidepressants are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carry a “black box” warning label about this risk in children, adolescents, and young adults up to the age of 24. The risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of antidepressant treatment.
Certain young adults are at an even greater risk for suicide when taking antidepressants, including teens with bipolar disorder, a family history of bipolar disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts.
Teenagers on antidepressants should be closely monitored for any sign that the depression is getting worse. Warning signs include new or worsening symptoms of agitation, irritability, or anger. Unusual changes in behavior are also red flags.
According to FDA guidelines, after starting an antidepressant or changing the dose, your teenager should see his or her doctor:
- Once a week for four weeks
- Every two weeks for the next month
- At the end of their 12th week taking the drug
- More often if problems or questions arise
Supporting a teen through depression treatment
As the depressed teenager in your life goes through treatment, the most important thing you can do is to let him or her know that you’re there to listen and offer support. Now more than ever, your teenager needs to know that he or she is valued, accepted, and cared for.
- Be understanding. Living with a depressed teenager can be difficult and draining. At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.
- Encourage physical activity. Encourage your teenager to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression, so find ways to incorporate it into your teenager’s day. Something as simple as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can be beneficial.
- Encourage social activity. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your teenager to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your teen out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.
- Stay involved in treatment. Make sure your teenager is following all treatment instructions and going to therapy. It’s especially important that your child takes any prescribed medication as instructed. Track changes in your teen’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.
- Learn about depression. Just like you would if your child had a disease you knew very little about, read up on depression so that you can be your own “expert.” The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your depressed teen. Encourage your teenager to learn more about depression as well. Reading up on his or her condition can help a depressed teen realize that he or she is not alone, giving your child a better understanding of what he or she is going through.
The road to your depressed teenager’s recovery may be bumpy, so be patient. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for the occasional setback. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself or compare your family to others. As long as you’re doing your best to get your teen the necessary help, you’re doing your job.