Teenage Suicide

Teenage suicide occurs at an alarming rate and can be directly attributed to
three main causes: depression, substance abuse, and relationships. This terrible
phenomenon is rapidly increasing in the United States and only in the last
decade has any serious attention been paid to the underlying causes. Suicide is
the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-25,
with only accidents and homicide being more common! Most teenagers express
various warning signs before they attempt suicide. Therefore, suicide is a
preventable occurrence in the vast majority of cases. Depression is by far the
leading cause of teenage suicide. Depression is a disease that afflicts the
human psyche in such a way that the afflicted tends to act and react abnormally
toward others and themselves. Therefore it comes as no surprise to discover that
adolescent depression is strongly linked to teenage suicide. Adolescent suicide
is now responsible for more deaths in youths aged 15 to 19 than cardiovascular
disease or cancer (Blackman, 1995). Despite this increased suicide rate,
depression in this age group is greatly underdiagnosed and leads to serious
difficulties in school, work, and personal adjustment, which may often continue
into adulthood. Brown (1996) has said the reason why depression is often
overlooked in children and adolescents is because "children are not always
able to express how they feel." Sometimes the symptoms of mood disorders take
on different forms in children than in adults. Adolescence is a time of
emotional turmoil, mood swings, gloomy thoughts and heightened sensitivity. It
is a time of rebellion and experimentation. Blackman (1995) observed that the"challenge is to identify depressive symptomatology which may be superimposed
on the backdrop of a more transient, but expected, developmental storm."

Therefore, diagnosis should not lie only in the physician’s hands but be
associated with parents, teachers and anyone who interacts with the child on a
regular basis. Unlike adult depression, symptoms of youth depression are often
masked. Instead of expressing sadness, teenagers may express boredom and
irritability, or may choose to engage in risky behaviors (Oster &

Montgomery, 1996). Mood disorders are often accompanied by other psychological
problems such as anxiety (Oster & Montgomery, 1996), eating disorders,
hyperactivity, substance abuse, and suicide, all of which can hide depressive
symptoms. The signs of clinical depression include marked changes in mood and
associated behaviors that range from sadness, withdrawal, and decreased energy
to intense feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. Depression is often
described as "an exaggeration of the duration and intensity of normal mood
changes" (Brown, 1996). Key indicators of adolescent depression include a
drastic change in eating and sleeping patterns, significant loss of interest in
previous activity interests (Blackman, 1995), disruptive behavior, peer
problems, increased irritability and aggression (Brown, 1996). Blackman (1995)
proposed that "formal psychological testing may be helpful in complicated
presentations that do not lend themselves easily to diagnosis." For many
teens, symptoms of depression are directly related to low self-esteem stemming
from increased emphasis on peer popularity. For other teens, depression arises
from poor family relations, which could include decreased family support and
perceived rejection by parents (Lasko, 1996). Oster & Montgomery (1996)
stated that "when parents are struggling over marital or career problems, or
are ill themselves, teens may feel the tension and try to distract their
parents." This "distraction" may include increased disruptive behavior,
self-inflicted isolation, or even verbal threats of suicide. So how can we
determine if someone should be diagnosed as depressed or suicidal? Brown (1996)
suggested the best way to diagnose is to "screen out the vulnerable groups of
children and adolescents for the risk factors of suicide and then refer them for
treatment." Some of these "risk factors" include verbal signs of suicide
within the last three months, prior attempts at suicide, indications of severe
mood problems, or excessive alcohol and/or drug use. Many physicians tend to
think of depression as an illness of adulthood. In fact, Brown (1996) stated
that "it was only in the 1980’s that mood disorders in children were
included in the category of diagnosed psychiatric illnesses." In actuality,

7-14% of children will experience an episode of major depression before the age
of 15. In a sampling of 100,000 adolescents, two to three thousand will have
mood disorders out of which 8-10 will commit suicide (Brown, 1996). Blackman
(1995) remarked that the suicide rate for adolescents has increased more than

200% over the last decade. Brown (1996) added that an estimated 2000 teenagers a
year commit suicide each year in the United States, making it the leading cause
of death after accidents and homicide. Blackman (1995) stated that it is not
uncommon for young people to be preoccupied