Adolescent depression: A serious and common issue

Adolescents… whether you are one, love one, or work with one there is bound to be turmoil. Undulating adolescent behavior has forever confounded teens, their parents and other caring adults in their lives.

How do we know what is normal teenage angst? How do we recognize behaviors that should raise giant red flags? For most teens the transition from child to adult is filled with exciting, rocky, and awkward years; and they survive. For others, however, this is a time of great suffering and despair; a time when too many teenagers are seriously considering suicide.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health reports that 20% of Ohio high school students have considered suicide, 14% have made a plan to carry it out and 8% have attempted it. It is staggering to think that in the last twelve months one in five Ohio teenagers have seriously considered suicide (see side bar for national statistics).

Shocking statistics; and the questions you should ask are these: Why are these numbers so high; would I know if my child, best friend, relative, or neighborhood babysitter was contemplating suicide; what can I do to prevent this from happening; and who do I go to get help for someone?

“Ninety percent of people who take their lives suffered from depression or another diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder,” says Pat Lyden, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance (SPEA) headquartered in Beachwood, Ohio. “When you consider that fourteen percent of children 12-17 experienced at least one episode of a major depressive disorder in the last year, then we clearly have a critical issue to address. Fortunately, we know that the most effective way to prevent suicide is for people to learn the warning signs of someone at risk; take those signs seriously; and respond appropriately.”

While some suicides occur without any outward warning, most do not; so reaching students, parents and others in contact with teens is imperative to preventing suicide. Lyden, whose organization has conducted free, evidence-based suicide prevention programming to over 50,000 students in 76 schools across Northeast Ohio, cites numerous examples of teens who have come forward to SPEA’s instructors and said, “I’m having thoughts of suicide,” and “You are describing me…I have these symptoms of depression.”  SPEA’s program, Recognizing Adolescent Depression and Suicide Prevention, is delivered by expert instructors who connect with students in a special way.  “Because our instructors are not part of the school faculty, teens feel safe admitting that they need help. 

“We can point to sound, scientific proof that when we educate students, parents, and other concerned community members on recognizing adolescent depression and bipolar disorder,” emphasizes Lyden, “we can change behaviors and get teens the help they need before they put into play an act that will have devastating effects on everyone in their lives, forever.”

The mission of Suicide Prevention Education Alliance is to prevent suicide and promote recognition of adolescent depression through education and alliances with community partners. In response to community need, SPEA developed its signature school program, Recognizing Adolescent Depression and Suicide Prevention, and has delivered the program to 50,000 students in 76 Northeast Ohio high schools. To schedule this lifesaving program in your school or youth group, call Suicide Prevention Education Alliance (SPEA) at 216.464.3471. To learn more, visit


Upcoming Suicide Prevention Education Alliance program:

6th Annual Into the Light Walk. Sunday, September 27th at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, 6-8:30 PM. Contact: 216.464.3471 or  with any questions. Visit  for more information and to register.

Recognizing Depression - Know the Signs:

In most cases, the depression that so often precedes suicide is both recognizable and treatable. If someone has at least five of the following symptoms, lasting for at least two weeks, help should be sought from a physician or mental health professional:

• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

• Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities

• Declining school performance

• Feelings of hopelessness or desperation

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, shame

• Change in sleeping patterns

• Change in appetite or weight

• Decreased energy, fatigue, and feeling “slowed down”

• Restlessness and irritability, increased anger/fighting

• Decreased ability to concentrate, remember, or make decisions

• History of physical or emotional illness

• Increased alcohol and/or drug use

• Thoughts of death, suicide, or wishes to be dead

You CAN Help:


• Ask the suicide question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

• Listen with concern.

• Allow your friend or child to express his/her feelings.


• Express your concern in a non-judgmental manner.

• Offer hope. Hope saves lives.

• Say, “I want you to live.”

• Persuade the individual to go with you to get help from your School Counselor or a mental health professional.


• Get help from your School Counselor or a mental health professional.

• Arrange for your friend or child to get professional help quickly.

• If he/she refuses, get help anyway.


• Don’t try to handle the situation alone.

• Don’t swear yourself to secrecy.

• Don’t ignore the situation.

• Don’t leave the person unattended.

• Avoid saying, “You have so much to live for,” or Your suicide will hurt your family.”


Suicide-Related Behaviors among U.S. High School Students

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans age 15-24 and the fourth leading cause of death for those 9-14. In 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance:

  • 14.5% of students, grade 9-12, seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months (18.7% of females and 10.3% of males).
  • 6.9% of students reported making at least one suicide attempt in the previous 12 months (9.3% of females and 4.6% of males).
  • 2.0% of students reported making at least one suicide attempt in the previous 12 months that required medical attention (2.4% of females and 1.5% of males).

5 Danger Signals for Suicide:

  1. Previous suicide attempt
  2. Talking about death or suicide
  3. Planning for suicide
  4. Depression
  5. Sudden happiness/increased energy after a severe depression
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Volume 1, Issue 1, Posted 12:43 PM, 08.20.2009