BY MARY JO RAPINI, M.ED., L.P.C.
Managing depression and possible suicidal tendencies
We see the news reports and hear about it on the radio. We read about it online and in the newspapers, and we will continue to until we can all do something about preventing it. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassed only by accidents and homicides. Suicide is the 11th cause of death in the United States. It kills 31,000 people each year and severely inflicts injuries on another 425,000 each year.
APRIL IS THE MOST POPULAR MONTH FOR SUICIDE IN THE UNITED STATES. We see parents out of work or losing their homes and their teen’s depression or anger may go unnoticed. We hear about teens bullying or harassing other teens, leading the victimized teens to kill themselves. We watch teens going through a break-up and feeling like their life cannot go on, and being sure their only peace is suicide. How does this happen? What is wrong with our children? How did we not notice as parents?
The profile of someone who turns to suicide is complicated. Many times it is someone we would have never suspected, but more often they have one or more of these issues: chronic mental health issues (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depressive disorder, etc.), addictive personalities (alcohol/drug abuse, love/sexual addictions). They more often than not have low self-esteem and have been victims of bullies, sexual predators, and emotionally, and/or physically abusive adults or peers. They often feel isolated, may be described as loners, and/or have suffered a break-up or the loss of a loved one.
Those who are in the midst of a chronic or temporary medical disorder may be experiencing a chemical imbalance that prevents them from thinking clearly enough to make sound judgements. They may convince themselves that the world is better off without them, and many times they make that call for others as well. They may feel like they are an unwanted burden and mistakenly think that killing themselves removes that burden, rather than seeing that it actually creates a worse one for those that go on living. Many times they have confused ending their pain or another’s pain with ending their life.
What can you do if you know someone—or if a child you love—is struggling and you worry about them committing suicide?
Step I: Never ignore it
If your instincts tell you someone seems depressed, likely they are. Better to risk being wrong, than to bury someone.
You cannot talk someone into suicide and bringing it up won’t make someone act on it if they aren’t feeling like it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Once you ask someone you may begin a dialogue with them where they begin to feel safer and more willing to discuss their pain or problems with you and hopefully with that of a professional.
Children are exposed to bullies not only at school but also in cyberspace. Three weeks ago, a child was brutally attacked in Florida by another teen over a text message. The child had been fearful but had not told her mother because she didn’t know how to bring it up. Currently the child is in an intensive care unit in grave condition.
Last week a 13-year-old boy in Texas hung himself in his parents’ barn after being bullied at school, through Facebook, and text messages. Schools are not sure how to handle this sort of bullying and if parents don’t ask, many times children won’t talk.
Step II: Make a doctor’s appointment
Your pediatrician is an excellent place to begin to assess why your child is depressed. It is not uncommon for children to become depressed during puberty. A physician can diagnosis if there is concern with hormonal changes as well as recognize adverse reactions to medications.
Regardless of what is found by your family doctor seek a psychiatric evaluation by a specialist: a licensed/board certified psychologist (Ph.D.) or psychiatrist (MD). Sometimes problems are so shameful or difficult that your loved one or child cannot talk with a family member, religious leader, or close friend about it. An extensively trained third party provides a safe environment conducive to trust and healing.
Very few problems especially those tied to emotion eliminate themselves immediately. It takes time and patience to work through difficult issues. Remind your child that you are on their team, and you will not leave their side. Reassure them that this bad time will pass in their life. Children and adolescents don’t understand that many of life’s problems are transient and can become something more manageable in the future. Teens hormones frequently fuel the fire, causing them to experience emotion with alarming intensity, (an intensity that they think others can’t possibly understand).
Step III Get them to sign a contract
With the help of a therapist, you can make a family pact that your child will not do anything to endanger themselves. This may take vigilance on the part of the parents to spend the night watching their child, but this is more reassurance for the child that they are embraced in love and they can count on their parents to help protect them. If your child is over the age of 16, it may be important for them to be hospitalized during this vulnerable time. Alert your child’s teacher as to what their part will be in helping keep the child safe. Teachers want to provide a safe place for your child but many times they don’t know how. If a professional assists the parents and teachers, the child can get through this time feeling supported and confident.
Never forget that when someone is contemplating suicide they are also looking for weapons. Remove all guns, knives, belts, scarves, and other potential threats from the immediate area. The decision to end one’s life usually isn’t well thought out due to impaired emotional, chemical, or physical factors. Sadly, the person who is in the thick of things can’t see the proverbial forest through the trees and likely doesn’t recognize that their judgement is impaired. It’s up to us to help prevent them from making a deadly and irrevocable decision. J
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.