To most parents, the idea of talking with their teens about suicide provokes a great deal of anxiety.  If you are the parent of a teenager, you may feel awkward about broaching the subject or wonder why you should even bring it up.

The reality is that such a discussion can be literally life-saving.  Suicide among adolescents has tripled over the last 25 years and is currently the third leading cause of death for this age group. And for every completed suicide, there are approximately 60 unsuccessful adolescent suicide attempts.

Whether your teenager shows signs of suicidal risk or not, it’s worthwhile to have a conversation about the issue.  A natural opportunity for such dialogue can occur with the suicide death of an acquaintance or public figure.  You can begin a discussion about how young people particularly find it difficult to make the best decisions when they are under stress, as their sense of perspective is still developing. Tell your teenager that you know that he or she will suffer a difficult loss someday or make what seems to be a horrible mistake. Let your loved one know that, when that day comes, you will be there for them, and that they will get over the pain.  You can even brainstorm about positive alternatives to suicide.

But what if you are worried than your own teen may be considering suicide? First, be aware of the common signs, such as:

  • Recent talk about death, suicide or “going away;”
  • Expressing thoughts of guilt, hopelessness, or extreme sadness;
  • Giving away possessions;
  • Avoiding friends, family, and favorite activities;
  • Having difficulty concentrating or thinking logically;
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits;
  • Being self-destructive; e.g., cutting, abusing alcohol or drugs.

If you are concerned that your teen may be at risk, don’t be afraid to raise the subject immediately.  It’s absolutely untrue that discussing suicide increases one’s risk – keeping silent is the greater danger. Start with a comment or two about your concern, such as: “You have seemed really sad to me lately – can you tell me what’s going on?”

If your teen doesn’t open up, you can probe further and take a more direct approach; e.g., “I’m concerned about how you’re feeling.  Do you ever feel like you just don’t want to go on?” Or: “You seem really depressed.  Are you having any thoughts of hurting yourself?”

Following are a few “DOs” and “DON’Ts” to consider when talking to your teen:


  • Encourage your teen to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Let your teen do most of the talking – be a good listener. Let them vent, cry, or emotionally unload however they need to.  No matter how negative the emotions, communicating them is a positive step.
  • Provide reassurance and hope; e.g., “We’re in this together; I know you can get through this and will help in any way I can.” Remind them of your love and support, and reassure them that help is available and they won’t always have to feel this way.
  • Develop an action plan. Try to get your teen to agree to a constructive course of action, such as seeking professional help, obtaining further information on coping with depression, etc. Ask your teen to try to hold off for just one more day or hour when they feel like they want to give up.
  • Praise your teen for opening up and having the courage to talk about their problems.


  • Make judgments about your teen’s feelings or thoughts; e.g., “What do you have to be sad about? You’ve got it made.”
  • Use unkind words or criticisms; e.g., “I always have to worry about you” or: “Why can’t you get your act together?” Avoid arguments, lectures, or moral judgments.
  • Minimize your teenager’s concerns; e.g., “You’re just overreacting. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
  • Be afraid of silence. Wait calmly and patiently for your teen to reply to your questions.
  • Offer pointless advice.  Your job at this point is not to “fix” your loved one’s problem but to provide support and a listening ear.

If your teen is in an immediate crisis, try to assess the situation. Find out if your teen has an actual suicidal plan or the means of committing suicide. If so, seek immediate help through your local crisis center, mental health center, or emergency room.  Make sure that any dangerous objects such as guns or knives are not in the vicinity, and do not leave your loved one alone under any circumstances until they are in professional hands.

Just as it sometimes takes courage to live when ending one’s life might seem less painful, it is an act of emotional courage for a parent to open up the difficult subject of suicide with their teenager. By starting the discussion, you may provide valuable support and information that will help your teen with future life choices.

If you are the parent of a teenager, dealing with moodiness may seem like a fact of life.  But for many teens, something more serious than moodiness is affecting their behavior. Today, at least one in eight teenagers may experience depression. Severe depression in teens can even lead to suicide, the second leading cause of death among adolescents.

As a parent, you may wonder what you can do to determine if your own teenager has problems with depression.  Learn more about the nature of depression and how to respond if your teen exhibits warning signs, and you may make a difference in the life of someone you love.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression can affect people of any age, and it often first strikes individuals in adolescence.  The disorder crosses all gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines.  Depression in young people is of particular concern because of the increased impulsivity adolescents often display, as well as the lack of a mature, grounded sense of self.

While most people tend to associate depression with sadness and tearfulness, teenagers often exhibit different symptoms than adults or express feelings in different ways. For example, depressed teens often:

  • Demonstrate rebellious behavior, such as skipping school, sexually acting out, or shoplifting. Rather than showing sadness, teens tend to demonstrate anger, frustration, and irritability.
  • Have many somatic or physical complaints, such as frequent stomachaches, headaches, or fatigue. Other physical changes can include sleep problems, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, as well as changes in eating habits, often associated with sudden weight loss or gain.
  • Engage in underage drinking or abuse drugs. While teens may use alcohol or drugs to dull their negative feelings, their effects often have the opposite effect.
  • Spend increased time alone, behind closed doors. Teens normally enjoy time with peers and busy schedules, so loss of interest in friends and activities should be of concern.

In addition to the above behaviors, watch for any of the following in your teen:

  • Sudden drops in school grades
  • Restlessness or difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and/or excessive guilt
  • Frequent sadness, crying, or anxiety
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism

While any symptoms of depression or other sudden behavior changes should be taken seriously, parents should be particularly alert to warning signs of suicide, such as:

  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Giving away possessions to others
  • Talking as if no one cares about them
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness about the future
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or threats

How Parents Can Help

The most critical way a parent can help a depressed teen is by recognizing the above symptoms.  By knowing signs and symptoms and by maintaining regular communication with your teen, you can potentially identify depression in its early stages.

If your teenager displays any of the symptoms of depression for an extended period, or if symptoms seem severe, don’t be afraid to intervene.  Begin by talking with your teen. Don’t let depression be the elephant in the room. Explain what you have observed, acknowledge that you are concerned, and explain why.  Make sure you talk in a non-judgmental and caring way.  Encourage your teen to open up to you or another respected adult about his or her feelings.

If your teen is reluctant to talk to you, it may be time to consider professional help. The experience may be less threatening if you begin with a visit to the pediatrician or family physician.  Your doctor can conduct a depression screening, which may include a physical examination and an interview with your teen.  You may then be referred to a mental health professional for follow-up.  Include your teen in the decision-making process so that greater buy-in will be achieved. Treatment may include psychotherapy and/or medication.

While depression can be a confusing and frightening experience for both teens and their parents, prompt treatment is generally successful. A depressed teenager today can go on to live a normal adult life and learn to cope more successfully with both his or her own moods and life’s challenges.

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This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.

As most parents are well aware, the teen years can be trying and tumultuous times for both the adolescent and the adults in their lives. When a parent watches their once happy-go-lucky, gregarious child transforms into a moody teen, it can be a disquieting and often somewhat bewildering experience. Although moodiness is quite normal in teens, parents must also stay alert for signs of depression during their child’s adolescent years.

As a child moves through puberty, their bodies and brains undergo a series of rapid changes. Coupled with societal and peer influences — and depending on the environment at home — this can be a confusing and difficult period for an adolescent, often marked by anxiety and even moments of despair. But in normal situations, although they will surface from time to time, these symptoms come and go and are usually short-lived as the teen continues to progress toward achieving a balance in their life.

Signs of Depression

Teen depression affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of adolescents. Signs of potential sufferers of adolescent depression include:

– a persistent sad and melancholy demeanor

– expressed feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

– constant fatigue

– hints at thoughts of suicide.

If left unaddressed, this affliction can have dire consequences. In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers.

Differences in Teen and Adult Depression

A number of contrasts exist between depression symptoms in adolescents and adults. For instance, adults will often withdraw from those around them and become more isolated. However teens, while withdrawing to a degree from the adults in their lives, will often continue to associate with their close friends.

Though a depressed teen may experience changes in sleeping patterns, they will still find time to sleep, even at odd hours. Adults are more prone to experience insomnia when they are depressed. In addition, depressed adolescents will generally express their feelings and emotions through anger and irritability, as opposed to depressed adults who are often more sad and withdrawn.

Parents must remain vigilant and “in-tune” with their child’s behaviors and attitudes throughout their teen years. If problems exist that appear to go beyond what is expected of the “normal” adolescent, parents should not hesitate to contact a mental health professional for advice.

Through expert diagnosis and counseling, and possibly the administration of anti-depressant medications, adolescent depression can be successfully treated, paving the way toward a healthy, productive adult life.

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This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.

The teen years can be challenging and confusing times. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is not an easy one for many young people as they try to establish their place in the world. Pressures to perform well academically, fickle relationships and living up to parental and peer expectations are just some of the issues that can weigh heavily on the mind of a teenager.

Occasional moodiness and angst are normal for most teens as they navigate their way through adolescence. These are often typical responses to circumstances that young people have not yet developed the skills or maturity to process. As time moves forward, the healthy adolescent will gain the experience and perspective necessary to handle many of the situations that once confounded them.

Symptoms of Adolescent Depression

For some teens however, moodiness, sadness and irritability are not so fleeting. Prolonged bouts with these and other symptoms including withdrawal from friends and family; hostility and extreme sensitivity; expressing feelings of worthlessness; and loss of interest in activities may indicate problems at a deeper level.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting approximately 10-15 percent of the nation’s teens. If symptoms such as those described above persist for more than a period of a few weeks, it would be wise to seek help as soon as possible.

Depression Treatment: The Sooner the Better

The earlier that mood disorders such as depression are detected and treated, the better. If left unaddressed, the chances of depression leading to substance abuse and other destructive behaviors — and even suicide — are greatly increased.

After initial screening, treatment for teen depression will often include a combination of medication and talk therapy. Teens that are prescribed antidepressant medications are carefully monitored for side effects. Talk therapy and cognitive therapies help young patients replace negative thought patterns with positive ones by providing them with a better understanding of the causes for their thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Detecting depression early and beginning treatment right away will enhance the chances of a faster and smoother recovery. A complete “cure” for depression is never guaranteed. However, proper treatment can set an adolescent on the path toward living a good and productive life.

C. Stephen Edwards, Director, Adolescent Psychiatry, Lindner Center of HOPE

Teen depression is a serious problem in the United States.  One in eight teens is likely to experience depression.  Teen depression is much more than just bad moods, growing pains or even feeling down.  Depression will impact every aspect of a teenager’s life.  It can lead to problems at school and at home, drug abuse, self-loathing, and even suicide or homicide.  As a caregiver, it is vital for you to understand the warning signs of teen depression.

Here is a quick guide to the behavioral changes of which you should be aware:

  • Sadness or Hopelessness
  • Irritability, Anger or Hostility
  • Frequent Crying
  • Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities
  • Changes in Sleeping or Eating Patterns
  • Restlessness or Agitation
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt
  • Fatigue or Lack of Energy
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Thoughts of Death or Suicide

When evaluating your teen or a teenager you love, consider how long these symptoms have been present, how severe the symptoms are and how much the teen’s behavior changed.

Do not assume your teen will show the same depression symptoms as an adult, as this mental illness will present itself in very different ways depending upon the age of the sufferer.  Teens are more likely to show irritability or anger instead of sadness, and may become grumpy or easily frustrated.  Teen depression can also manifest with unexplained aches and pains.   Be aware of any headaches or stomachaches that are not able to be attributed to a physical ailment.  Depressed teens will show an extreme sensitivity to criticism.  They have feelings of worthlessness, which makes them more vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.

If you know a teen who is exhibiting these symptoms, you can help them find treatment.  Start by talking with the teen.  Express your concerns in a comforting, non-judgmental way.  Talk about specific behaviors and why those behaviors are concerning to you.  Visit a doctor and have your teen screened for depression.  This screening will include a physical exam and blood test to rule out any medical reasons that the teen may be experiencing symptoms of depression.

If there are no physical reasons for the symptoms, ask the doctor to refer you to a specialist.  Make sure you get the teen’s input.  Your teen is an important part of this decision.  He or she needs to feel comfortable with the specialist and the treatment setting or it will not help the recovery process.  It is imperative to find someone with whom your teen can connect.  Don’t be afraid to explore a variety of treatment options – from one-on-one therapy or group therapy to medication – until you find what works best.

Never be afraid to talk with your teen about depression!  In many cases, families are unaware of the symptoms of depression and they can easily miss the subtle signs.  Many parents and caregivers can mistakenly assume their teen will show the same symptoms as an adult.  Instead, learn the unique signs and symptoms of teen depression – it could mean the difference between life and death!


C. Stephen Edwards, Director, Adolescent Psychiatry, Lindner Center of Hope is the author of this article on mental health clinics, teen depression and mood disorders.  Dr. Edwards is board certified in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and board eligible in pediatrics. As Director, Adolescent Psychiatry at Lindner Center of HOPE he oversees the adolescent inpatient and outpatient programs. He specializes in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and abuse prevention. The Lindner Center of Hope offers a level of service to patients, families and referring physicians not typically found in health care today.  The unique infrastructure provides access to cutting edge treatments years before they become widely available.