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Adolescent Depression and Suicide: Early Detection and Treatment the K

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Adolescent Depression and Suicide: Early Detection and Treatment the Key

Only in the past two decades has depression in adolescents been taken seriously. Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. Therefore it comes to no surprise to discover that adolescent depression is strongly linked to teen suicide. Adolescent suicide is now responsible for more deaths in youths aged 15 to 19 than cardiovascular disease or cancer (Blackman, 1995). Despite this alarming increased suicide rate, depression in this age group is greatly under diagnosed and can lead to serious difficulties in school, work, and personal adjustment, which may continue into adulthood. How prevalent are mood disorders and when should an adolescent with changes in mood be considered clinically depressed? Brown (1996), has said the reason why depression is often overlooked in adolescents is because it is a time of emotional turmoil, mood swings, gloomy thoughts, and heightened sensitivity. It is time of rebellion and experimentation. Blackman (1996), 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, the adolescent's first line of defense is his or hers parents. It is up to those individuals who interact with the adolescent on a daily basis (parents, teachers, etc.) to be sensitive to the changes in the adolescent. 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). Key indicators of adolescent depression include a drastic change in eating and sleeping patterns, significant loss of interest in previous activity interests, constant boredom, disruptive behavior, peer problems, increased irritability and aggression (Brown, 1996).

What causes a teen to become depressed? 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. Oster and 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 could include increased disruptive behavior, self-inflicted isolation and even verbal threats of suicide. Many times parent's are so wrapped up with their own conflicts and busy lives that that fail to see the changes in their teens, or they simply refuse to admit their teen has a problem. In today's society the family unit can be quite different from the stereo typical one of the 1950's, where the father went to work and the mom was the homemaker. Today, with single parent families and families where both parents have corporate jobs, the teen may feel he or she is playing "second fiddle" in importance in the lives of their parents. Also, great stress is placed upon teens today starting in early childhood. Most enter daycare at an early age and continue into preschool. Then when public school starts they are either in the early-morning program, after-school program or just latch key kids. They are left to their own devices at an early age. Many go home to an empty house with no one to talk to about their day at school. Once the parent's arrive home it may be time for soccer practice, baseball practice, or gymnastics class. Again no time for talking about the day's events and with everyone going in different directions a family dinner around the kitchen table just does not happen. At one end of the spectrum, teens maybe pushed by their parent's to excel in sports and scholastics, and at the other end there are teens that are never given direction or aspirations by their parent's. Those pressured to excel maybe come overwhelmed by what is expected of them and can fall into using drugs and alcohol as a form of escape and may feel the only way out is that of suicide. On the other hand those teens without direction and lack of interest on the part of their parent's, may also turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. They may contemplate and even attempt suicide as a way of either drawing attention to themselves or to just end their lives because no cares about them anyway. Dr. William Beardslee of Boston, working with children and teens exhibiting depression and suicidal tendencies feels these disorders are likely based on a complex interplay of biological/genetic forces and developmental transactions between teens, family members and the outside world. Some teens manage to survive and even flourish under the most difficult circumstances,

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