Depression is a type of mental illness called a mood disorder. Mood disorders affect the way you feel, which also affects the way you think and act. With depression, you may feel ‘down,’ hopeless, or find that you can’t enjoy things you used to like. Many people who experience depression feel irritable or angry. And some people say that they feel ‘numb’ all the time.
Recognizing depression in young people can be more difficult than recognizing depression in adults because young people experience so many changes. You may wonder what is ‘normal’ and what might be a problem. Also, many children and teens may not want to talk about their feelings, or may have their own explanation for their experiences. However, you may still notice the following changes.
- Changes in feelings: Your child may show signs of being unhappy, worried, guilty, angry, fearful, helpless, hopeless, lonely, or rejected.
- Changes in physical health: Your child may start to complain of headaches or general aches and pains that you can’t explain. They may feel tired all the time or have problems eating or sleeping. Your child may unexpectedly gain or lose weight.
- Changes in thinking: Your child may say things that indicate low self-esteem, self-dislike or self-blame—for example, they may only talk about themselves negatively. They may have a hard time concentrating. In some cases, they may show signs that they’re thinking about suicide.
- Changes in behaviour: Your child might withdraw from others, cry easily, or show less interest in sports, games, or other fun activities that they normally enjoy. They might over-react and have sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents.
Some of these changes may be signs of mental health problems other than depression. It’s important to look at the bigger picture: how intense the changes are, how they impact your child’s life, and how long they last. It’s particularly important to talk to your child if you’ve noticed several changes lasting more than two weeks.
Who does it affect?
Depression often starts between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can affect anyone—even teens and younger children. While we don’t know exactly what causes depression, many factors are likely at play. These include family history, personality, life events, and changes in your child’s body. Certain medications and physical illnesses can also contribute to depression.
What can I do about it?
Depression is very treatable. Children, teens, and adults can all recover from depression. For children and teens in particular, early treatment is important so they can get back to their education and other goals as quickly as possible.
Support for a young person who experiences depression may come from several different people and places. Your family doctor is often the first place you start, but you may also find support through people like psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, or peer support workers. Many communities offer programs that support healthy children and build social connections—these are also helpful in preventing depression.
Schools are also an important place for all children. Many schools offer programs that build skills, resiliency, and supports. If you’re concerned about your child’s health, teachers and school counsellors can describe changes they’ve seen or problems they’ve noticed during the school day. If your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, your child’s school may make small changes to support your child’s learning goals. Many schools offer counselling or referrals to community services.
Counselling and support.
Many children start with counselling like cognitive-behavioural therapy (or ‘CBT’). CBT teaches people how their thoughts, feelings, and actions work together. It also teaches skills such as healthy thinking, problem solving, and stress management. CBT has been widely adapted for different groups and different situations, and it’s also useful to prevent depression.
Self-care strategies to stay well are important for everyone. This includes eating well, exercising, spending time with others, and making time for fun activities. Ask your care team for ideas. They can also recommend programs or services in your community that support healthy living.
Support groups may also be helpful. Support groups are an opportunity to share experiences and learn from others. There are also groups specifically for caregivers and family members.
Your child may also be prescribed an antidepressant if other options don’t seem to help. This is a group of medications used to treat depression and other mental illnesses. The decision to use medication can be complicated, especially if your child is young. Medication can be helpful for some children, but there may be extra risks to consider. It’s important to have an honest discussion with your doctor so you know what to expect. Most professionals will consider medication for children under the age of 18 as a second option to other approaches, like counseling.
It’s a difficult topic to bring up. However, when someone talks about suicide or brings up concern for a loved one, it’s important to take action and seek help quickly.
What is suicide?
Suicide means that someone ends their life on purpose. However, people who die by suicide or attempt suicide may not really want to end their life. Suicide may seem like the only way to deal with difficult feelings or situations.
Who does it affect?
About 4000 Canadians die by suicide every year. Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among young people, but men in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide. While women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Suicide is a complicated issue. People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate, and alone. In some rare cases, people who experience psychosis (losing touch with reality) may hear voices that tell them to end their life.
Many different situations and experiences can lead someone to consider suicide. Known risk factors for suicide include:
- A previous suicide attempt
- Family history of suicidal behaviour
- A serious physical or mental illness
- Problems with drugs or alcohol
- A major loss, such as the death of a loved one, unemployment, or divorce
- Major life changes or transitions, like those experienced by teenagers and seniors
- Social isolation or lack of a support network
- Family violence
- Access to the means of suicide
While we often think of suicide in relation to depression, anxiety, and substance use problems, any mental illness may increase the risk of suicide. It’s also important to remember that suicide may not be related to any mental illness.
What are the warning signs?
Major warning signs of suicide spell IS PATH WARM:
- I—Ideation: thinking about suicide
- S—Substance use: problems with drugs or alcohol
- P—Purposelessness: feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living
- A—Anxiety: feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- T—Trapped: feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation
- H—Hopelessness or Helplessness: feeling no hope for the future, feeling like things will never get better
- W—Withdrawal: avoiding family, friends, or activities
- A—Anger: feeling unreasonable anger
- R—Recklessness: engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided
- M—Mood change: a significant change in mood
How can I reduce the risk of suicide?
Though not all suicides can be prevented, some strategies can help reduce the risk. All of these factors are linked to well-being. These strategies include:
- Seeking treatment, care and support for mental health concerns—and building a good relationship with a doctor or other health professionals.
- Building social support networks, such as family, friends, a peer support or support group, or connections with a cultural or faith community.
- Learning good coping skills to deal with problems, and trusting in coping abilities.
When a person receives treatment for a mental illness, it can still take time for thoughts of suicide to become manageable and stop. Good treatment is very important, but it may not immediately eliminate the risk of suicide. It’s important to stay connected with a care team, monitor for thoughts of suicide, and seek extra help if it’s needed. Community-based programs that help people manage stress or other daily challenges can also be very helpful.
What can I do if I experience thoughts of suicide?
Thoughts of suicide are distressing. It’s important to talk about your experiences with your doctor, mental health care team, or any other person you trust. They can help you learn skills to cope and connect you to useful groups or resources. Some people find it helpful to schedule frequent appointments with care providers or request phone support. Other things that you can do include:
- Calling a crisis telephone support line.
- Connecting with family, friends, or a support group. It can be helpful to talk with others who have experienced thoughts of suicide to learn about their coping strategies.
- If you’re in crisis and aren’t sure what to do, you can always call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
Some people find a safety plan useful. A safety plan is a list of personal strategies to use if you think you are at risk of hurting or ending your life. You can create a plan on your own, with a loved one, or with your mental health care team. Your plan may include:
- Activities that calm you or take your mind off your thoughts
- Your own reasons for living
- Key people to call if you’re worried about your safety
- Phone numbers for local crisis or suicide prevention helplines
- A list of safe places to go if you don’t feel safe at home
- How can I help a loved one?
If you’re concerned about someone else, talk with them. Ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide won’t give them the idea. If someone is seriously considering suicide, they may be relieved that they can talk about it.
If someone you love says that they’re thinking about ending their life, it’s important to ask them if they have a plan. If they have a plan and intend to end their life soon, connect with crisis services or supports right away. Many areas have a crisis, distress, or suicide helpline, but you can always call 9-1-1 if you don’t know who to call. Stay with your loved one while you make the call, and don’t leave until the crisis line or emergency responders say you can leave.
The two most important things you can do are listen and help them connect with mental health services.
Here are tips for talking with a loved one:
- Find a private place and let your loved one take as much time as they need.
- Take your loved one seriously and listen without judgement—their feelings are very real.
- Keep your word—don’t make promise you can’t keep or don’t intend to keep.
- Tell your loved one that they are important and that you care about them.
If your loved one already sees a doctor or other mental health service provider, it’s important that they tell their service provider about any thoughts of suicide they may have been having. Depending on your relationship, you can offer to help—by helping your loved one schedule appointments or by taking them to their appointments, for example.
If your loved one doesn’t see a mental health service provider, you can give them the phone number for a local crisis line and encourage them to see their doctor. Your loved one may also be able to access services through their school, workplace, cultural or faith community.
Supporting a loved one can be a difficult experience for anyone, so it’s important to take care of your own mental health during this time and seek support if you need it.
~ Information Courtesy of the Ryan Donaldson Memorial Tournament.