Help prevent teen suicides

Lighthouse column
By: Angela Ponivas Special to The News Messenger
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In recent months, Lincoln has had three young people “allegedly” commit suicide. For this reason, I think it is important to share some facts, signs and appropriate responses to teenage depression that can lead to suicide. Teenage depression isn’t just bad moods and occasional melancholy. Depression is a serious problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Left untreated, teen depression can lead to problems at school, drug abuse, Internet addiction, self-injury, reckless behaviors, self-loathing—even irreversible tragedy such as homicidal violence or suicide. Their “acting out” behaviors in any of these forms are intended to relieve or end the pain felt. Fortunately, teenage depression can be treated, and in fact, depression is one of the more treatable psychiatric illnesses. The challenge is that only 20 percent of teens actually receive help so it is important for those surrounding a teen to help the teen reach out for help. If you are a concerned parent, teacher, or friend, there are many steps you can do to help a depressed teen. You can start by learning the symptoms of depression. They include: • Sadness or hopelessness • Irritability, anger, or hostility • Tearfulness or frequent crying • Withdrawal from friends and family • Loss of interest in activities • Changes in eating and sleeping habits • Restlessness and agitation • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation • Fatigue or lack of energy • Difficulty concentrating • Thoughts of death or suicide The teen years are tough but most teens balance the requisite angst with good friendships, success in school or outside activities, and the development of a strong sense of self. Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected but depression is something different. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair or anger. If you feel that you know of a depressed teen, then seek to have the teen assessed for depression. With the parent’s consent, Lighthouse is able to provide a depression screening at no charge. Simply have the parent come to the Lighthouse to make the request and schedule the appointment. Again, untreated depression can lead to suicide, and an alarming and increasing number of teenagers attempt and succeed at suicide each year throughout the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds. For the overwhelming majority of suicidal teens, depression or another psychological disorder plays a primary role. In depressed teens who also abuse alcohol or drugs, the risk of suicide is even greater. Because of the very real danger of suicide, teenagers who are depressed should be watched closely for any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior. The warning signs include: • Talking or joking about committing suicide. • Making statements like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever” or “There’s no way out.” • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”). • Writing stories and poems about death, dying or suicide. • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury. • Giving away prized possessions. • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good. • Seeking out weapons, pills or other ways to kill themselves. If you suspect that a teenager you know is suicidal, take immediate action! For a local 24-hour crisis line, you can call Family and Child Services (FACS) at 872-6549 or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK. Angela Ponivas is the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center’s executive director. Her phone is 645-3300; address is 427 A St., Suite 400; and Web site is