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Prof offers insight on why Tennessee teens are depressed

November 4, 2003


The road to adulthood has potholes– heartbreaks, embarrassing moments, deaths, divorce. While hindsight allows an adult to see such events in the proper perspective, teenagers may experience depression.

The 2003 Youth Risk Survey revealed 30 percent of Tennessee high school students have struggled with feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
November 4, 2003


The road to adulthood has potholes— heartbreaks, embarrassing moments, deaths, divorce. While hindsight allows an adult to see such events in the proper perspective, teenagers may experience depression.

The 2003 Youth Risk Survey revealed 30 percent of Tennessee high school students have struggled with feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

“Teenagers do not have the developmental history to see beyond the present,” says Austin Peay State University's Dr. Patti Wilson, nationally certified and licensed psychologist. “In effect, there is an ‘all or nothing' mentality.”

In addition, 15 percent of Tennessee high school students surveyed said they have considered suicide or planned to end their own lives. The World Health Organization reports an increase in suicide among young people that currently places them as the highest risk group in one-third of all countries.

So, why are more adolescents considering suicide?

“Many teenagers do not see suicide as a reality, because they have seen it over and over in the media,” says Wilson. “Their mentality is that they will still be around as a sort of ‘fly on the wall' to see others react to their deaths.”

According to Wilson, common warning signs of depression and suicidal tendencies include changes in sleeping and eating habits, lack of participation in physical activities, deriving no pleasure from things that once created happiness and tying up lose ends.

“If a child is making apologies, giving things away or telling their friends, ‘If anything happens to me, I want you to have this,' that should be a red flag,” she says.

Wilson warns irritability also is a common symptom, as younger people mask depression with irritability. In some cases, teens will issue verbal warnings.

“Adolescents considering suicide as a means of punishing someone else generally tell everyone,” says Wilson. “However, the kids that actually follow through are generally the ones that give very few signs.”

Finally, Wilson warns parents to watch for signs of substance abuse.

“We have such a huge surge of adolescents recreationally using stimulants,” Wilson says. “These teenagers are so used to feelings of euphoria that a normal day feels depressing, even though it is not.”

For more information regarding teen depression and suicide, visit the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign Web site at www.nostigma.com.
—Terry Stringer