Should I be concerned?

Teen Line staff Cheryl Eskin and Michelle Carlson conduct a webinar on suicide prevention in teens on 3/30/17.

teen brain map

Adolescence is a time of immense change for both the parent and teen. Teens are grappling with a changing body, emerging sexuality, questions of identity and peer pressure, to name a few issues. Parents are faced with their adolescent wanting more independence and separation, which can lead to conflict and impaired communication. With everything going on, it’s difficult to know what’s depression and what’s general teen moodiness, and when and how to intervene. We know that teens with depression don’t always present the same as adults. There may be no appearance of “sadness” or isolation/withdrawal. Teens who are struggling may present with anger or irritability, which can be misinterpreted.

So what are the warning signs of depression?

This list is by no means comprehensive, but here are the most common:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability or anger
  • Frequent crying or other mood swings
  • Withdrawl from family or friends
  • Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Difficutly concentrating
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Self injury

A very general rule of thumb is to observe a teen’s behavior over a matter of days or weeks, rather than to catastrophize over one day. Pay attention to how different they are acting from the norm, how severe their behavior changes are, and if there are any recent losses or changes. A teen who used to enjoy school and have a lot of friends and activities, and now spends most of their time alone and their grade are suffering is a teen sending out warning signs.

Teens who exhibit warning signs should also be monitored for suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide). Suicidal ideation should always be taken seriously and explored.

Here are some of the more common suicide warning signs:

  • Talking or joking about attempting or dying by suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Glamorizing death (“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 unexplained accidents
  • Giving away valued possessions
  • Writing a will or saying goodbye to friends/family
  • Investigating or talking about ways to kill themselves