According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds. That blows my mind. On top of that the National Institute of Mental Health believes that as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed. The leading cause is obviously believed to be depression. This breaks my heart, but I remember being a teenager and having huge mood swings. So what are some signs that we as youth pastors, parents, and church leaders should be looking for?
Often, kids with teen depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation and even become withdrawn, closing their bedroom door after school and staying in their room for hours. Kids with teen depression may sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, and may even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting.
Here are some signs that a Teen may be dealing with depression.
- complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- excessive or inappropriate guilt
- irresponsible behavior — for example, forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school
- loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating that results in rapid weight loss or gain
- memory loss
- preoccupation with death and dying
- rebellious behavior
- sadness, anxiety, or a feeling of hopelessness
- staying awake at night and sleeping during the day
- sudden drop in grades
- use of alcohol or drugs and promiscuous sexual activity
- withdrawal from friends
Here are some signs that a Teen may be contemplating suicide.
- Talking, joking, or asking about suicide or death, including statements like “Things would be better without me”
- Giving away possessions, especially valued ones
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, especially those that lead to injuries or “near-misses”
- Obsessing over death, violence, and weapons, such as in speech, television, music, games, drawings, etc.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with a teen contemplating suicide
- Do not leave a suicidal teen alone, or allow him or her access to firearms, medications, or other potentially harmful objects
- Talk to the teen – be direct and ask him or her if he or she is thinking about suicide
- Show concern for the teen – don’t judge or try to convince him or her that “it’s not that bad”; reassure the teen that he or she can get help
- Take suicide talk and attempts seriously
- Get help for the teen from a professional doctor or counselor right away; if he or she does not have insurance, contact a local mental health center or hospital to find out what kind of aid or free services are available
- Educate yourself about suicide and depression
- Help the teen feel support from family and friends and/or join a support group
- If someone you know has committed suicide, seek counseling for yourself and anyone else in your family who may be affected
In my short 5 years of ministry I have seen teens that would definately be categorized as depressed. More and more, teens are hurting and we are the ones they are looking to for help. I hope this reminds us to keep an eye out for signs kids at our church, in our school, in our neighborhood might be hurting. After all, we are the ones who should be helping the hurting.