Depression and Suicidality in Teens/Children
Updated: Mar 30
Over the years, we (parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, etc.) have been seeing increased depression and anxiety in children. The CDC states that children diagnosed with depression or anxiety have risen from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2012. Depression is something we frequently hear in the media, and it is even common into adulthood, with 1 in 10 adults suffering from some mood disorder. From our knowledge about depression, it is clear that depression, especially in adolescents, can lead to suicidal thoughts/actions. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in children, adolescents, AND young adults ranging from ages 15 to 24.
It is worth mentioning that not all children and teens with depression will experience suicidal thoughts or have attempted. Notwithstanding, treating depression is important to help the child/teen learn to cope and/or overcome the concern. Aside from depression, suicidality can also occur due to bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance abuse, trauma response, anxiety, eating disorders, and personality disorders. In this blog, we focus on depression based on its prevalence.
Depression is no one's fault, and sometimes we can't exactly pinpoint one cause, but a combination of factors. Depression can arise because of psychological stressors, such as death/grief, breakups, bullying, and complicated family dynamics, or changes such as divorce. Issues like trouble in school and lack of self-esteem can also contribute to depression; however, a big factor can be genetics. Children and teens are at greater risk of developing depression if other family members have it. It is important to deal with our depression as parents, as children often model our behaviors. So, if they see us taking care of our depression, they learn how to cope with it at a younger age.
If you have concerns that your child or teen might be depressed, these are some of the tell-tale signs:
Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
Withdrawal from friends and family
Not engaging in activities previously enjoyed
Lack of self-esteem
Complaints of physical symptoms (psychosomatic symptoms) such as headaches or stomachaches
Preoccupation with death/dying
Aggressive behavior or irritability
These are just a few, but if you feel your child could be experiencing depression or suicidality, start by having a conversation with them and ask them how they have been feeling. People often feel uncomfortable discussing suicide or depression. Still, studies show that being open about the subject can help children and teens feel assured that someone cares and is willing to help. It can also open the door to discussing the problem. There are a few differences in the appearance of suicidality or depression in teens and children. Some of these include:
Preoccupation with death/dying
Self-injurious behavior (such as cutting, scratching)
Trouble making decisions
Defiance/engaging in risky behaviors (such as: driving recklessly)
Behaviors such as getting rid of possessions, making a point to say good-bye to people, suicide letters
Losing interest in activities
Lack of motivation
Trouble maintaining and creating friendships
Irritability or anger
Sensitivity to rejection of failure
Preoccupation with death and dying.
With all of these signs, you might be thinking: "What can I do about this?" Of course, as previously stated, it is important to keep the door open in communication. Please talk about the topic with your children, and remember to show them that no topic is off-limits. It is also important that you reach out to the children's doctor and schedule a therapy appointment if you have any concerns. Small things we can do are: Promoting quality time with friends and family, helping your child re-engage in activities they enjoyed and continuing checking in on mood and thoughts.
If your child needs immediate attention, you may call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255 or dial 911.