We all feel sad, down, blue or discouraged at times. That’s pretty normal. Sadness, disappointment, and pessimism are natural reactions to the hassles of life. I regularly feel a bit blue during football season as I watch my beloved Oakland Raiders lose each week. The reality is that, in the scheme of things, the loss of a favorite team is not that meaningful when compared to an argument with a friend or loved one.
For teens, there are many things that can cause stress: a breakup, a best friend moving, doing poorly on a test, or not performing at an athletic event. Such events may even make them feel pessimistic about the future. We’ve all been there. In most cases, we manage to overcome these feelings with a little time and care. Depression, however, is different.
Depression is a lingering mood of sadness and hopelessness. It can last weeks or months and is fairly common among teenagers. Statistics suggest that adolescent girls are twice as likely to experience a period of depression as compared to boys. At Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH), many of our young men come to us with a diagnosis of depression.
So why do teens get depressed? Well, for the same reason we adults get depressed. Internal and external pressures cause stress. The difference is, as adults, we have learned to work through those feelings, emotions and stressful situations. Maturity has made us better managers of our emotions and feelings. But our children are still learning how to navigate their emotions and manage those pressures. Their skills are limited. It is critical for us as parents to be able to recognize the signs of depression in our children, as depression often leads to thoughts of suicide.
Approximately two million teens attempt suicide each year! Girls are more likely to consider and attempt suicide, while boys are more likely to succeed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens, behind unintentional accidents (largely car) and homicide. This is tragic on multiple levels, not only for the teens suffering from feelings of hopelessness but also for the families who feel the aftershocks.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
A teen who is contemplating suicide will manifest warning signs. It is these signs that we as parents must pay attention to, especially when we know our children are struggling through break-ups, arguments with friends, academic struggles, insecurity, being bullied, crisis at home, addiction, conflict, or major disappointment.
In most cases, a teen considering suicide progresses through 3 stages:
Stage 1 – Thinking seriously about suicide
Stage 2 – Talking about suicide and making a plan
Stage 3 – Implementing the plan
Parents must pay close attention. As I have said before, don’t say, “that can’t happen with my child.” It is our tendancy as parents to think this way, but the truth is it can happen to anyone. Be on guard. Listen to your teen. Know what is going on and try your best to understand what they are experiencing. When they express feelings of hopelessness, listen to them. When they feel trapped in their emotions, gently show them a way out. When they make statements about everyone being better off without them, confront this as un-truth!
Remember, we all go through times of sadness. But when it is more than occasionally feeling blue, sad, or down in the dumps, it is a sign of something deeper. Understand that it is normal for your teen to experience feelings of sadness and discouragement. It is part of the process of growing up. However, it’s important that we are aware of the signs of depression and suicide so we can recognize when these feelings become a cause for concern.
We at Paul Anderson Ministries are here to help families face the realities of this generation and equip you with resources to tackle the challenges of this current culture.
Do not fight this alone! Get help from trusted friends, family members, the church, counselors, or someone you trust. You are an important part of your child’s team. They need the input of caring adults in order to avoid the dark days of depression and instead enjoy God’s light!
Excerpt from Dangerous Trends: Understanding Depression and Suicide
Love by Listening
“Often the most important thing you can do to help a teen that is struggling is simply to listen. Your child may not be able to accept advice or analyze the problem right away. You have to do the hard work of just listening. The great English statesman, Winston Churchill, once said, ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ Find the courage to sit quietly and really listen to your child. Ask questions and do not offer advice or quick answers – not yet. Just listen and resist the incredible urge to speak, even when there is uncomfortable silence. Listening is a powerful act of love and helps them realize what ideas and emotions they have inside.”
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