Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers after accidents and homicide. Why do so many teenagers take their own lives? Major factors in many suicides are bullying, feeling a failure or failing an important exam, a relationship break-up or family problems. These are all major stresses but a lot of teenagers manage to get through them relatively unscathed. The difference between those who can cope and those who turn to suicide as a solution to these problems is that the majority of the latter already have a mental or substance-related disorder and they can't deal with the stress.
Substances include alcohol and drugs and the mental problems include depression and anxiety disorders. Teenagers suffering from depression and anxiety do not have the strength and self esteem necessary to realize that problems can be overcome and life does turn around and get better. They are unable to rationalize that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. They see it as the only way out.
The difficulty is in separating what is 'normal' adolescent angst and what is a problematic serious emotional state. Only about one fifth of teenagers suffering from depression get help despite the fact that the condition responds very well to treatment. While some depressed kids may be sad and withdrawn, others become irritable, aggressive or very angry.
Symptoms usually include two or three of the following and the amount of time they have been present needs to be taken into account:
- Loss of interest in hobbies and everyday activities
- Withdrawal and spending long periods alone
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Hostility, anger and irritability
- Feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Tearfulness and crying
- Restlessness and agitation
- Lack of motivation and difficulty in concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Substance abuse
- Aches and pains that have no physical cause
Because of the physical changes and rampant hormonal swings that accompany adolescence, teenagers are very susceptible to depression. While some may open up and try to express what they are going through, the vast majority is too embarrassed or shy to talk to anyone. They are not aware that they have depression or an anxiety disorder and simply feel that they are to blame for the hopelessness and despair they feel. Parents and teachers need to be made aware of these conditions and realize that the badly behaved, extreme or unsociable, withdrawn teenager in their house or class may be in desperate need of professional informed help.
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