Teenage Suicides: Identifying Depression Can Lead to Prevention

There is a need to curb teenage suicides. The right approach is awareness about identifying early signs of depression in youngsters.
A teenage girl in depression
Teenage suicide needs to be prevented. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Mental Health
Updated: 5 Jan 2024, 17:15 pm IST
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Like most mental health issues, suicide attempts are often rooted in depression. While this is true across age groups, the reality gets starker for children and teenagers. According to a study published in Science Direct, India has among the highest youth suicide rates in the world. In the 15-29 age bracket, suicide rates in India are as high as 25.5 per 100,000, almost twice the global average of 13.1.

Among younger children, suicide attempts are often associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity. For teenagers, the reasons may be related to stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. A case in point is the coaching city of Kota, which unfortunately sees an average of 25 suicide cases each year.

The early signs

Since suicide attempts are essentially sudden and impulsive, detecting early signs such as depression is the key to prevention. Among the easily detectable symptoms associated with depression are sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, pessimism, anger, and sleep deprivation or insomnia. Depression can also manifest in the form of loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and chronic physical pain such as headaches and cramps. Thoughts of death or self-harm often accompany these.

Common causes of depression

Prominent among the causes of depression are chemical imbalances in certain parts of the brain that manage mood, thoughts, sleep, appetite, and behaviour. This is accompanied by changes in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone among females. Similarly, a family history of depression, another mood disorder or early childhood trauma could also trigger depression.

Medical conditions and brain structure can also cause depression. For example, there’s a greater risk for depression if the frontal lobe of your brain is less active. However, scientists don’t know if this happens before or after the onset of depressive symptoms. At the same time, certain conditions such as chronic illness, insomnia, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, heart attack, and cancer put young people at a higher risk of depression.

Substance use as well as emotional or chronic physical pain for long periods can also lead to depression.

Identifying other drivers for suicide

Apart from reading early signs of depression, factors such as health, environment, or family history can also increase the risk of suicide. Health issues such as prevailing mental health conditions, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, conduct and anxiety disorders or even traumatic brain injury could cause the extreme step. Children and teenagers alike are often easily triggered by the environment around them. A family history of harassment and bullying, broken family, rejection, divorce, financial crisis or even exposure to firearms, drugs, or another person’s suicide can increase the risk.

Dr Rahul Chandhok on prevention of suicide
Dr Rahul Chandhok on prevention of suicide.

Warning signs

Some warning signs include a change in behaviour or the presence of entirely new behaviours in a suicidal person. Most people who are prone to attempt suicide may exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Hence, it is helpful to observe and flag any talk around self-harm, hopelessness, lack of reason to live, feeling trapped or burdensome to others, and unbearable pain. Similarly, a sudden change in their behaviour may be accompanied by increased use of alcohol or drugs, searching online for self-harm methods, withdrawal from activities or social isolation, extreme sleep patterns, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, giving away prized possessions, and aggression.

Mood swings, too, can be a warning sign along with depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, shame and humiliation, and anger.

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Treatment plan

The detection of depression and other early warning signs should be accompanied by an immediate intervention, which can typically follow a treatment plan. Such a plan may include medication, psychotherapy, family therapy, and education.

Treatment centres like Sukoon Health, with empanelled mental health experts, can help detect such warning signs and follow a robust treatment plan to help these children and teenagers adopt healthy lifestyle changes. Such lifestyle changes can include managing stress, improving sleep, eating, and exercise habits, building a solid support network, and making time for hobbies and interests.

India is losing its youth to suicide at an alarming rate. All stakeholders, including premier coaching institutions, top colleges, health institutions, parents, and students must join hands to detect and prevent these fatal self-harm tendencies. Each stakeholder must be accountable for their actions, and significant importance should be given to addressing mental health issues and seeking treatment at the correct time.

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About the Author

Dr Rahul Chandhok is a senior consultant psychiatrist. He is the Head Consultant, Mental Health and Behavioural Science at Artemis Hospital. After obtaining an MD in Psychiatry from Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Dr Chandhok acquired over 21 years of diverse experience in the psychiatry field. Dr Chandhok is associated with Sukoon Health as a referring doctor and specialises in treating chronic and resistant schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and OCD. ...Read More

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