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Depression can be overwhelming and, if left untreated, can fundamentally change your teen. Ultimately it can lead to the unthinkable, suicide.
By Nicoleen Davies, Director Life Talk Forum with extracts taken from "Life Talk for Parents" by Izabella Little-Gates and Thomas Burkhalter
Thomas Burkhalter adds: "It's worth noting that 'normal adolescence' will, at times, present with depressed mood, insecurity, apathy or aggression, among other symptoms and this should not necessarily be seen as clinical depression. It is often difficult to diagnose depression, as adolescents are prone to masking their depressed feelings through denial, a tendency to 'act out' their feelings, or an avoidance of dependency, and their behaviour may obscure their level of distress. Symptoms can also vary from one child to another. As a parent, it is important to be attentive and involved in your child's life (though not intrusively so, or with excessive anxiety) in order to note changes in disposition and behaviour that are uncharacteristic. Where there is a family history of depression, children with such histories will be more vulnerable."
Many teens suffer in silence, afraid of being judged, not knowing how to open up or feeling that they have no one to talk to who will understand them.
FACTS ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE IN SOUTH AFRICA
People aged 15-29 are the highest risk for suicide and females are more likely to commit suicide (Prof L. Schlebusch).
9.5% of all teen deaths in South Africa are due to suicide.
In South Africa more than half of the teens commit suicide by hanging themselves.
South African research found that 23.6% of teens are struggling with feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
SADAG research indicated that 24% of teens have thoughts about committing suicide.
The National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey found that 21.4% of teens have made one or more suicide attempts.
Teenagers are affected by depression more than people realise. Some of the situations which send teens into a downward spiral include bullying; the break-up of a relationship; the death of someone close; divorce; illness or disability; failure; trauma or loss; stress from pressure; humiliation in front of peers; having done something wrong; conflict with family members; a depressed parent; substance abuse by a parent; and physical, hormonal, emotional and psychological changes that accompany adolescents.
Izabella Little-Gates explains: "Teens with low self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to depression, but even those who appear strong, outgoing and confident, or seem to have everything going for them, also sometimes become unexpectedly vulnerable. The emails the Life Talk Forum receives provide fascinating insights into the fragility of many teens' confidence, self-esteem and resilience."
These are some of the comments received from concerned parents: "My daughter used to be outgoing and happy, but recently she's withdrawn, cries easily and has no energy. Could this be depression?"
"As soon as my son comes home from school, he shuts himself in his bedroom and hardly talks to us."
"Our daughter recently broke up with her boyfriend and she's been tearful ever since. Is it normal or is she depressed?"
"Unless the signs are very obvious, it's often hard for parents to work out whether their teen is depressed, or whether he or she is 'just being a teenager writes Izabella. "We know that the teen years bring a range of changes — a process of separating from the parents and becoming more independent, and of suffering possible mood swings."
TYPICAL SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION It's vital for parents to know what to look out for. Symptoms could include: A loss of interest in family and things that used to interest them; Lack of energy and fatigue; . Irritability, anger and hostility; Withdrawal from family and friends, isolating themselves; Drug and alcohol use and abuse; Changes in eating and sleeping habits, especially difficulty sleeping; Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, guilt and being trapped; Preoccupation with, and thoughts about, death; Acting-out behaviour: running away, problems at school, drugging, criminal activity such as vandalism or shoplifting, sexual activity, reckless and dangerous behaviour; Lack of interest in their physical appearance; Unexplained aches and pains; Panic and anxiety attacks; Inflicting injuries on themselves through cutting and other forms of self-mutilation.
WHEN DEPRESSION LEADS TO THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE Teens that talk or joke about suicide are likely to try and, in fact, 75% of those who did commit suicide, gave some warning. Other warning signs would include comments like, "You would be better off without me", "I wish I was dead", or "There is no way out".
Often suicidal teens will obsess and focus on death in poetry, essays or art. Sometimes they actively look for weapons or will question you about medication and its effectiveness. Some start to give away prized possessions or start saying goodbye to people who are important to them. These are all potential warnings and should not be dismissed or ignored.
The value of social media should also not be under-estimated. Keeping an eye on their social media activities could provide you with vital, lifesaving information — this includes their Whatsapp statuses, Facebook messages, Twitter and Instagram. Encourage your children to raise awareness with an adult if they see
friends posting concerning comments or status updates.
Shockingly, for every successful suicide, there are an estimated 10 attempted suicides which generally go unnoticed.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR TEEN IS DEPRESSED Thomas advises: "Consultation with an appropriate professional is recommended to assess the situation. Depression is not something you deal with on your own."
Izabella advises, "In addition to obtaining professional help, parents can help by: Keeping communication flowing, focusing on listening, discussing and sharing; Encouraging your teen to take part in positive activities; Helping them to develop a positive attitude, to change negative thought patterns, to find ways to deal with life choices, decisions and challenges; and Providing opportunities for laughter, fun, and light-hearted or uplifting family activities."