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Teen depression, suicide on the rise; here are the signs parents need to look for

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Concerns about teens and poor mental health are mounting among parents as the coronavirus pandemic wages on.

A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights a staggering increase in the number of emergency room visits attributed to depression, anxiety and suicide attempts as well as drug and opioid overdoses between mid-March through October 2020. Results showed they were markedly higher compared to the same period in 2019.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Claire Nicogossian, a child psychologist and clinical professor at Brown University, about what parents need to look for should they suspect their child is suffering. Nicogossian also offered actionable steps parents can take to address these difficult challenges.

Signs of Teen Depression

  1. Changes in appetite, sleep and mood.
  2. Not wanting to do activities they once enjoyed.
  3. Negative self-talk and critical thinking of self or harsh self-talk and labeling – i.e. “I’m such a loser”, “I’m the worst person ever”, “I have no friends”, “No one likes me.”
  4. Changes in weight (not accounted for by expected growth and development).
  5. Expressing Hopelessness – i.e. “What’s the point?”, “Nothing matters.”
  6. Mood swings – Irritability, anxiety, fear, worry.
  7. Sleep-nightmares or bed-wetting or changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation).

Recommended Tips for Parents

  1. Open Communication and Connect Everyday – Don’t shy away from the tough topics like, gambling, drug use, alcohol use, sexual assault, domestic dating violence, etc. Don’t wait to find out.
  2. Be Active + Engaged In Their Social Media/Tech – Know what social media they are on, who they are talking to and passcodes/phone/apps they are using.
  3. Teach Coping Skills – Encourage them to have a range of coping skills. Ask them to label when the emotions are so intense and ask the tough questions about whether they’ve felt so hopeless/stressed that they’d think of harming themselves, or taking pills or alcohol to numb the emotions.
  4. Be Mindful of What’s In Your Home – Lock up or remove alcohol and any prescriptions in your home.
  5. Model Healthy Coping Skills As A Parent – Research has shown children’s and teens’ distress levels are higher when parents have higher reported rates of depression/anxiety. It’s not that you can’t have emotions or need to be perfect, just know that all of our actions and behaviors matter. Practice what you’re preaching with healthy coping skills.
  6. Listen, Support and Acknowledge Their Feelings – Let them have feelings and reactions and avoid reacting in a disciplinarian way, even if you disagree with them. When we react negatively or punish them for choices that are risky or show poor judgement, we lose connection, trust, and the opportunity to teach them in the future.
  7. Highlight Their Strengths – Take extra time to compliment their schoolwork, hobbies or show greater appreciation for any chores they help with around the house. Take the time to acknowledge how hard all of this is and commend them for all they’re doing.

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over six years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Facebook @DrMaryGillis and Instagram @reportergillis.

Depression resources

Suicide resources

  • NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Be Well Indiana Crisis Helpline: 211
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741