By Dr. Jan Hittelman
It is not well known, but one of the fastest growing age groups for suicide are children 10-14 years of age. Given that Colorado ranks first among all states for teen depression, it is important for parents of elementary-age youth to be more aware of the warning signs in order to identify these concerns as early as possible.
Nationally suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24, while in Colorado it is the second leading cause of death. As disturbing as these statistics are, it is widely believed that they are underestimated since many suicides and attempts go unreported. Fortunately for most, depression is a very treatable disorder. Depending on the particular individual, talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two, has been shown to be highly effective in treating depression. Unfortunately, it is estimated nationally that only 30% of adolescents with depression receive treatment. Surprisingly, research shows that many of these youth are from families with good communication. The challenge is that, in addition to the general signs of depression in adults (i.e. feelings of sadness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, loss of interest in once enjoyed activities, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating), the more subtle warning signs unique to children and adolescents are often missed. These include:
• Irritability, anger, hostility
• Frequent absences from school or poor school performance
• Lack of interest in spending time with friends or family
• Talk of or efforts to run away from home
• Social isolation, poor communication
• Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
• Reckless behavior
• Neglect of clothes and appearance
The good news is depression can be identified and treated, if the right resources and information are in place.