The Reality and Severity of Teen Depression and Suicide

Recently I was reading some articles about depression and suicide amongst teenagers. I was saddened to read of present statistics revealing suicide as the second leading cause of death of persons ages 10 through 24. According to a study done by the Jason Foundation, “More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.” [1]

There are those who will snidely ask, “What do young people have to be depressed about?” The world has changed a lot since the 1980’s and early 90’s (when I was a teenager), just as much had changed then as compared to the generation(s) before mine. There have been significant paradigm shifts attacking the very foundations of truth, family, morality, etc. These shifts have created a lot of unrest and uncertainty. As technology has increased, making the world seemingly smaller, many young people are also feeling more isolated. Added to this is the problem of “cyber bullying.”

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, there has been a rise in shootings in schools, churches, and public venues. Then later, after the Twin Towers catastrophe (what is referred to as “9/11”) in 2001, there has been a heightened concern of bombings and terrorism. The uneasiness many youth feel is warranted.

Our educational system insists on teaching evolution (despite the fact science does not support this), denying there is a God, and essentially teaching we are all but cosmic accidents. All the while we are told that we matter. Adding to their (teenagers) confusion is the plurality of contradictory religions and ideologies, as well as the relativizing truth (i.e., placing feelings and emotions over logic and facts; “What is true for one might not be true for another”), but life does not work this way. What a disservice to our young people!

Many homes are no better, as many children are raised in single parent homes, or with parents (or boy/girl-friends) who are abusive (verbally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually). Many youth are traumatized by the divorce of their parents or the loss of loved ones. Still, many children are then harassed, bullied, or isolated at their schools. Many are ridiculed—even ostracized—by students and teachers, alike, for their faith (if they have such). Added to this are the temptations of peer pressure, sex (of various kinds), alcohol, drugs, etc.

Sometimes adults minimize the stress young people are experiencing, but many of these things mentioned are major stressors even for adults, let alone young people who are still in developmental stages of life and trying to begin to figure life out! Such pressure can lead to depression. If depression is not dealt with it can lead to suicide. According to the study mentioned earlier, done by the Jason Foundation, each day in America alone 3,069 high school aged persons attempt suicide (this amounts to 1,120,185 persons per year)! These numbers do not include middle school aged persons.

There is not a single element to blame for suicide, but by and large depression is a major factor. Jason D. Thomson notes some of the common variables that contribute to the rise of depression and suicide amongst teens: “These precursors include drug and alcohol use, broken homes, economic status, race, suicidal ideation, poor self-esteem, distress, poor coping mechanisms, sexual orientation, victimization, as well as a lack of social connection and support.” [2]

Later Thomson notes one study had found “Among teens, approximately 9 in 10 teens who are suicidal display clues or warning signs to others.” [3]

Katherine Murphy gives a list of red flags to watch for: “Expressions of hopelessness or sadness, slipping school work, loss of interest in sports or other activities, weight change, and sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) are the most common warning signs.” Murphy then adds, “Pay attention also to less clear-cut signs of depression. These include somatic complaints (such as abdominal pain or headaches), preoccupation with death (such as always dressing in black and writing about nihilistic themes), running away, truancy, sudden rages or social withdrawal.” [4]

Jason Thomson notes that there is an increased risk of suicide whenever a teen feels frustrated, helpless, and hopeless in their ability to problem solve. He gives a similar list of warning signs to that of Murphy’s, but he observes, “Depression can distort an individual’s reality and the individual then fixates on their shortcomings, failures, and disappointments.”

While the outlook initially appears bleak, there is hope in helping teens get through their depression and overcoming thoughts of suicide. In their research on teen suicide in Canada, Barbara L. Paulson and Robin D. Everall found that three factors appear to be of immense help to teens. First, the development of self-efficacy and personal worth through increased coping and problem-solving skills. Second, an increase in social support and having someone they can confide in and who will genuinely listen. And finally, feeling accepted regardless of their difficulties. The writers note that educators have a tremendous impact, for better or for worse, on teens’ psychological functioning regardless of the difficult situations they are going through. [5]

How can we begin to help our troubled youth? I used to be a youth pastor, and I can attest to the fact times have changed. Ours was not a big group, but I was surprised how many had lost friends due to senseless violence. Some students were quite concerned about potential bombings where their parents worked or shootings at their schools. Others essentially had free reign as to their wanderings, having no real stability at home.

Young people need to know they are loved and their lives have genuine significance. One of the great problems with our secular humanistic education system is its hostility toward any references to God and creation, and its firm grip on the theory of evolution (again, true science does not support this theory). The importance of this matter has to do with human significance. If, indeed, secular humanism were true, if people were but by products of this process called evolution, then we would not have real significance. Regardless what our institutions tell us. Secular humanism basically teaches humans are so great, yet here today and gone tomorrow. Honestly, where is there any significance in this?

But the Bible tells us something wonderfully different about people:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~ Psalm 139:13-14

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. ~ Jeremiah 1:4-5

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. ~ Acts 17:26-27

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Our children and teenagers have significance because they were intentionally designed, “woven,” and are loved by a Creator who has made each of us in His image. Young people are not cosmic accidents or “mistakes” of their parents. Young people need to know this.

We must also help our youth through their coping and problem-solving skills. Our society is doing a grave disservice to young people by catering to their every whim and feeling. The theologian Martin Luther said it well: “Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving.” Feelings are not one’s identity. Who among us knew and understood who we were during our elementary years? One of the areas that makes our teenage years difficult is the process of beginning to understand ourselves. Truly, for many this is a life long journey. How ridiculous that parents and teachers are pushing agendas as if young people “know” who they are based on feelings. Let time and growth develop them. However, irreparable damage can be done if we try to rush the process and “put the cart before the horse.”

Next, we need to listen. The skill of listening is underdeveloped in many of us. Ours is a society that likes to talk, to lecture, to spout out opinions—even if void of logic or sense. Sometimes, especially when youth are needing a “safe place” to confide, we need the skill to listen and the wisdom to know when—and when not—to speak. This can be extremely difficult if you are a teacher or caregiver, because such persons desire to teach and fix. However, there are times our best teaching and fixing come when we are simply listening and being present for another.

Finally, young people need to know they are accepted, valued, and loved. This does not mean we must condone their behavior, views, or beliefs. However, they need to know that they are not castaways or disposable. They need to know their lives are of value and have purpose, that they are worth protecting and investing our lives into.

Sadly, doing these things will not end the tragic reality of depression and suicide of children and teenagers. However, if we can improve on helping young people to feel loved, accepted, and of significance, then hopefully we can see the numbers of the statistics of youth suicides drastically decrease.

Notes:

[1] Youth Suicide Statistics – Parent Resource Program. (2017). Retrieved from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

[2] Thomson, J. D. (2018). Discussion Around Depression and Suicide in Teens Today. Vanguard Practices from Practitioners, winter/spring special edition, 37-42.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Murphy, K. (2005). What Can You Do to Prevent Teen Suicide? Nursing, 35, 43-45.

[5] Paulson, B. L., & Everall, R. D. (2001). The Teen Suicide Research Project. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 1, 91-94.

5 thoughts on “The Reality and Severity of Teen Depression and Suicide

  1. This is an amazing blog article. I have been lucky to live through three suicide attempts, the last one in 2010 was one I barely survived. I know that as a teenager I was dealing with suicide daily and it has only gotten worse. I have read stories of kids as young as 11 taking their lives. It is a epidemic in my eyes, and one not everyone cares about because, as you said, so many people can’t believe someone so young has things in their lives that could lead them down the path of suicide. It is why I fight for those who are dealing with suicide. I hope that as a society we can find a way to let all these young people know that suicide is never the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. James, thank you for taking the time to read my article, but also for taking the time to write and share. Sir, I am glad that your attempts were not successful, but I am sorry to hear the battle is still ever present. I agree, suicide is an epidemic, yet it is not talked about enough. Let us, together, continue to speak up and fight for them. It’s been a few years ago, but there were three teens around the same time in neighboring towns who took their lives. One was in middle school who was being cyber bullied. Very sad. Don’t give up in your own fight, sir. You are worth it! Blessings to you.

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  2. What I saw, and see today, is people talking to each other but not really (even in churches). Once in awhile, you find one who speaks honestly, from the heart, and is a seeker. That reminds us there are those on the same road. What happens when you have everything (i.e. cars, home, money, and more, even “friends” and power…) and realize you have nothing? What happens when you realize nothing can make you happy any longer? And that happens in a world without hope. Young people, with parents that speak from the heart, are real, can make all the difference in the world. No, it’s not about our feelings. I never liked hearing a teacher ask me about my feelings. That seemed “off” to me. Just speak like a real person. Be real. As I see it, Jesus Christ is/was the most real person anyone ever met. When people saw him, they saw pure honesty, and one who loved us so much he died for us, that we might all be with Him and the Father. *I have been fortunate, in a few situations, to be talking with a young person going through tough times. No, I wasn’t a fuzzy teddy bear. I listened. I asked. I commented. Then, I explained, I understand, told them they can always talk to me and their family, but now it’s time to get back to work. I listened, but was also no-nonsense. And they liked this. They still had the difficulty, but now, thanks to God, knew someone was listening, and they knew I was encouraging them to prayer. God bless.

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    1. I agree, a lot of people talk about these things—but not really. Perhaps, especially, in churches. Indeed, we are to speak the truth in love. As for feelings, a person can feel alone, unloved, confused, etc., a person should be validated for how they might feel; however, just as important, to help a person know that our feelings can greatly distort one’s perception. The initial listening to a person is essential. For sure, the problem is not taken away, but knowing one is not truly alone can make all the difference in the world. Thank you for sharing. Blessings to you!

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  3. I’m going to share something that might sound off, but is not meant to be. As a kid, when I look back (Not after I grew up and there were all these theories.), I really didn’t care if people felt what I felt. If someone was feeling “sorry” for me, wanted to “help” me, say in bullying or sports, I really didn’t want that. I would look at them as if there was something amiss. When someone was over-kind, I wanted to get away. There’s a difference between real and the not-so-real. Let me explain. I was helping monitor at a park so to speak. A little girl came running past, tripped, and skidded right in front of me. So, I looked down. She seemed okay. She looked up at me. I asked, are you okay, in a matter of fact way. So, she got up, about ready to tear off and continue playing, happy (I was looking for any scraped knees and such.).
    Suddenly, out of nowhere, some lady came running up to the girl, all frantic and worried. It was then, the girl started crying, traumatized by the “caring.” I have a feeling, from that day forward, every time she “hurts” herself, she’s going to cry and look for someone to “understand” her. I’ve seen other kids, when someone starts “all worried” about them, they go away. They can see the “worry” is kind of like an invasion of their confidence. To them, caring is positive, not mushy, not over-worried, but confidence.
    Yes, I like talking to people. Yes, it’s cool to have friends, quality co-workers, and people you can “connect” with on ideas and stuff. But I’ve never liked anyone feeling what I’m feeling. Why? That’s a good question. First of all, I don’t think they can, and if they try, I’m wondering why are they trying to feel what I feel? What’s in it for them?
    I look at people. I’ve always had this sense. The one’s who seem to care so much, it’s either part of their profession or they have something in their past that causes them to behave this way. But it’s rarely straight forward. The one’s who care don’t seem to care as much, which many sound weird. Kind of like when I coached soccer, a player was flipped in contact, and while he held his leg, I told him to get up. But coach, I’m hurt. I know, I said, get up (Yes, I could tell he wasn’t that hurt.). So, he got up, then I roared, now get the ball back. He got the ball back and scored the next goal. On the sidelines, he stood next to me, proud of what he’d done. Yes, a couple of parents looked at me like I was insensitive, but they also could see the kid was happy, no harm done. If he’d been seriously hurt, we would have brought out the stretcher and called the ambulance.
    We do want to discourage bullying, but take people’s lives away, over protect them, be all about their feelings, and in many ways, more harm occurs. Have people all around always talking about their feelings, always worried about this and that, and they’ll forget how to live their lives. Not every problem needs solving. Sometimes, you learn through many years of life.

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