Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people under age 19, but many depressed teens shy
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people under age 19, but many depressed teens shy away from seeking help.
By LIBBY ALLARD
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
Melancholic music whispers through the house, intertwining with the sobs of the teen on the floor. She's alone in the room, with only her own arms to soothe away her troubles. It's a scene familiar to more teenagers than some might imagine.
In some ways it's typical: lonely, adolescent depression. But sometimes that depression rises to a frightening level: suicide.
After a suicide, the first question is always "Why?" Why would a teenager choose to end a life full of potential?
The natural assumption is that some terrible tragedy has overwhelmed the teen's life to the point he feels he just can't hang on anymore. It often doesn't occur to the average person that it may be an average issue that causes a teenager to take his own life.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people under age 19 and the sixth leading cause of death among those ages 5 to 14, said Peter Lake, director of child and adolescent services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wis.
Awareness is lacking
These aren't just a bunch of numbers, Lake said.
"The public," he said, "needs to become more sensitive and aware to this issue."
Research Lake and other experts cited says 20 million children -- including teens -- have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness, the most common being clinical depression. And as many as 20 percent of American teenagers have admitted to considering or attempting suicide.
Medical experts also said more kids suffer from mental illness than from HIV, leukemia and diabetes combined.
The recent losses of a student and faculty member at New Berlin Eisenhower High School in New Berlin, Wis., have re-emphasized to students at the school that everyday life can be tough to deal with.
Medical and psychiatric experts say such reflection is good, though, because often the most depressed teens have kept their grief to themselves.
"Treated kids say that they have concealed it (their illness) for up to two years," Lake said. "A lot of stereotypes prevent kids from getting help."
Often, and ironically, he said, it's fear of rejection and alienation that prevents teens from seeking help.
Angela Cools, a freshman at Marquette Senior High School in Marquette, Mich., expressed frustration over that fear. "We need to act like it's not a crime to get help. Having depression doesn't mean you're psycho," she said. "I think that a lot of times people won't get help because they think it's only for crazy people."
& quot;Everyone has their down or blue days," said John Aschenbrenner, a guidance counselor at Eisenhower High School, "but when it affects one's ability to function, one needs to seek help. ... The best definition I have ever heard for depression is: 'One feels like crawling into a hole and then taking that hole and pulling it in on top of him.'"
Not even experts and counselors can explain what triggers the leap from everyday sadness to dangerous depression.
One teenager hazarded a guess. Something as simple as "people making fun of other people" can be that trigger, said Jared Wermager, 15, of Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis. "Judgmental people, cliques" can push some teenagers over that edge, he added.
Harini Naidu, a sophomore at Peoria Richwoods High School in Peoria, Ill., was alarmed recently when a friend said to her, "I don't feel like I belong anywhere. Maybe God has a place for me with him." Naidu said she quickly alerted a teacher, and her friend ultimately received help.
Hidden cries for help
Considering the quirks in teenage humor and personality, some cries for help can even be disguised by jokes, innuendo and generosity, some experts said.
It may make you unpopular temporarily, but if a friend jokes about suicide or shifts from being typically self-centered or quiet to suddenly giving away prized belongings or acting unusually cheerful, tell an adult, experts said.
XLibby Allard is a student at New Berlin Eisenhower High School in New Berlin, Wis.