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Warning Signs of Teen Suicide

How To Detect Warning Signs When a Teen Is Contemplating Suicide

Each year, thousands of American teenagers are diagnosed with clinical depression. If ignored or poorly treated, it can be a devastating illness for adolescents and their families. A new book, Understanding Teenage Depression provides the latest scientific research on this serious condition and the most up-to-date information on its treatment. Drawing on her many years of experience as a psychiatrist working with teenagers, Dr. Maureen Empfield answers the questions parents and teens have about depression.

Although it is almost impossible to predict precisely which teenager will attempt suicide, there are warning signs that parents can look for. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has assembled this list of indications. If one or more of these signs occur, parents should talk to their teenager and seek professional help.

  • Unusual changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior or running away
  • Excessive drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating or a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards
  • Complaints of feeling "rotten inside"
  • Giving verbal hints such as "Nothing matters," "It's no use," or "I won't be a problem for you much longer"
  • Putting his or her affairs in order by giving or throwing away favorite possessions or belongings
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after an episode of depression

In high-risk patients -- that is patients who have threatened or attempted suicide -- there are four risk factors that account for more than 80 percent of the risk for suicide: Major depression, bipolar disorder, a lack of previous mental health treatment and the availability of firearms in the home. If these four problems were solved, most suicides would be prevented.

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