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Adolescent Depression and Suicide

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Only in the past two decades, have depression and suicide been taken seriously. Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts. Depression affects the way a person eats and sleeps, feels about themselves, and the way they think of the things around them. It comes as no surprise to discover that adolescent depression is strongly linked to teen suicide. Adolescent suicide is now responsible for more deaths in youths aged 15 to 19 than cardiovascular disease or cancer (Blackman, 1995). Teen suicide has more than tripled since the 1960's (Santrock, 2003). Despite this alarming increased suicide rate, depression in this age group is largely under-diagnosed and can lead to serious difficulties in school, work, and personal adjustment, which may continue into adulthood.

How prevalent are mood disorders and when should an adolescent with changes in mood be considered clinically depressed? Brown (1996), has thought the reason why depression is often overlooked in adolescents is that it is a time of emotional turmoil, mood swings, gloomy thoughts, and heightened sensitivity. Adolescence is often a time of rebellion and experimentation. Blackman (1996), observed that the "challenge is to identify depressive symptomatology which may be superimposed on the backdrop of a more transient, but expected developmental storm." (p. 52)

An adolescent's first line of defense is his or hers parents. Peers can be an essential part of detecting changes and differences in youth. Most of a teens waking hours are spent at school or with friends. It is up to those individuals who interact with the adolescent on a daily basis (parents, teachers, peers) to be sensitive to the changes in the adolescent. Unlike adult depression, symptoms of youth depression are often masked. Instead of expressing sadness, teenagers may express boredom and irritability, or may choose to engage in risky behaviors (Oster, 1996). The most common form of depression for females are drastic changes in eating patterns. Key indicators of adolescent depression include a drastic change in eating and sleeping patterns, significant loss of interest in previous activity interests, constant boredom, disruptive behavior, peer problems, increased irritability and aggression (Brown, 1996). Often times a teen shows multiple efforts to gain attention towards their depression by attempting suicide. These efforts should be taken very seriously even if there was no physical injury because of the attempt. In high school, a boy I will call John had attempted suicide several times and showed many signs of depression throughout high school. Because of the lack of treatment, the depression continued into adulthood. John committed suicide during his college years. Through the early detection and treatment method John could have been helped and his life would have been spared.

What causes a teen to become depressed? For many teens, symptoms of depression are directly related to low self-esteem stemming from increased emphasis on peer popularity. For other teens, depression arises from poor family relations, which could include decreased family support and what they believe to be rejection from their parents (Lewis, 1996). Oster and Montgomery (1996) stated "when parents are struggling over marital or career problems, or are ill themselves, teens may feel the tension and try to distract their parents" (p 2). This distraction includes increased disruptive behavior, self-inflicted isolation and even verbal threats of suicide. Many times parents wrapped up with their own conflicts and busy lives fail to see the changes in their teens, or they simply refuse to admit their teen has a problem. In today's society, the family unit can be quite different from the stereotypical one of the 1950's where the father went to work and the mom was the homemaker. Today, with single parent families and families where both parents may be working full time, the teen may feel they are playing "second fiddle" in importance. Great stress placed upon teens today starting in early childhood contribute to strain and depression. Most enter daycare at an early age and continue into preschool. When public school starts, they are in the early-morning program, after-school program or just latch key kids. Children left to their own devices at an early age develop sensations of loneliness. Many go home to an empty house with no one to talk to about their day at school. Once the parents arrive home, it may be time for soccer practice, baseball practice, or gymnastics class. In my own circumstances, my mother worked two jobs and was never home often times making me feel as if she was not interested in me. She would often miss cheerleading competitions that I held important and her absence would be devastating. Many times parents are too tired to spend time with their children, also leaving the child feeling neglected. At one end of the spectrum, teens are pushed by parents to excel in sports and academics. At the other end, there are teens never given direction or aspirations by their parents. Those pressured to excel maybe come overwhelmed by what is expected of them and can fall into using drugs and alcohol as a form of escape and may feel the only way out is that of suicide. Those teens without direction and lack of interest on the part of their parent's also increase likeliness of drugs and alcohol activity as a means of escape. (Lasko 1996) They may contemplate and even attempt suicide as a way of either drawing attention to themselves or to just end their lives because no cares about them anyway. A fellow student in my high school attempted suicide by overdosing on dangerous drugs. She would have died if her friend had not found her and sought out treatment.

Dr. William Beardslee of Boston, working with children and teens exhibiting depression and suicidal tendencies feels these disorders are based on a complex interplay of biological/genetic forces and developmental transactions between teens, family members and the outside world (Beardslee, 1998). Some teens manage to survive and even flourish under the most difficult circumstances, while others flounder under the same conditions. Beardslee's research led him to several core factors in how well a teen or child will do in overcoming ongoing adversity. Primary among them were the ability to form strong relationships, an action-oriented outlook and a keen and organized sense of identity (1998).

Santrock (2003) addresses gender differences as it relates to suicide and depression. Females tend to emotionally compound and dwell on issues making them twice as likely for depression symptoms. Puberty and physical changes happen at an earlier age for females and therefore increases the likelihood



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