The reality of teenage depression and suicide
Teenage suicide is a horrific reality in this world. Very sadly there are many teenagers end their lives just because of not doing ‘well enough’ in exams.The pressure of achieving and having too high expectations of oneself are all factors that can lead to a feeling of despair and inadequacy. Teenage depression and suicide are a tragic reality of modern life.
First step to helping
- Listen carefully and look for signs of depression and warning signs of suicidal thoughts.
- Don’t show surprise or shock and definitely don’t judge what the person is saying. Accept feelings and don’t shame the person with comments like “you’re not serious” etc.
- Don’t interrupt the person while they are talking, thereby turning the conversation back to yourself.
- Watch out for warning signs of depression and suicide in written messages like on Facebook and emails.
- Don’t try and find solutions for your friend. Try to listen to how they are feeling and encourage them to express their feelings. It can help if you try to imagine what the person has gone through to have those feelings. Reflecting back how a person is is feeling acts like a mirror and is helpful as it allows the other person to work through their problems.Use words that show you are trying to understand how they are feeling, for example “That must have hurt you … or frustrated you .. or made you angry … “This isn’t easy because human tendency seems to want to make things better with words of advice. We’re not always in touch with our own feelings.
Always take suicide threats seriously. Don’t ignore them because of your own discomfort. Find out more and ask specific questions. Don’t be afraid that your questions will encourage the person to commit suicide. It won’t. Questions give space for your friend to talk about how they are feeling.
Watch how you phrase your questions. For example a question like “you don’t really want to kill yourself, do you?” comes across as judgmental and unaccepting. Statements like this will definitely shut them up.
If the person has given an indication that they are planning to end their life, ask them if they have made a plan on how they are going to take their life. The answer will show if serious thought has gone into the suicide threat. A threat is especially serious if the person is planning to use a gun. Immediate action needs to be taken. Get your friend to a hospital.
Suicide must always be taken seriously. With suicide threats, the problem is often depression and the person needs medical help. Anti-depressants will definitely help.
How best to help your friend
- Stay calm and listen to the person’s feelings.
- Depression causes a person to think negatively. If the person is uncharacteristically negative it could be depression. Help your friend to understand negative thinking is a symptom of depression and can be treated. Stress results in a change in the brain chemicals leading to depression. A more detailed explanation of how depression is a physical illness can be found here.
- If you are a teenager yourself, tell an adult (parent or teacher). Even if your friend has told you to keep this a secret, you cannot. It’s too heavy a burden and irresponsible to keep a suicide threat confidential. Tell your friend upfront that you cannot keep this secret because they are so special to you and that you are going to tell an adult. Better still take your friend with you. Rather have your friend cross with you for breaking confidence than losing your friend to suicide. Just imagine how you’d feel if your friend did take their life?
- Tell the person that you care for them. A depressed person often feels unloved.
- Don’t leave your friend alone. Go with them to get help rather than just telling them to get help. Call police emergency if necessary.
Dealing with exam stress