'Help! My teenage son seems depressed and I fear he's suicidal'
There are things we can do and resources available to help us out
By Mark Stahl
QUESTION: My teenage son has been depressed for quite awhile, but recently it seems even worse. I'm very scared that he may harm himself. He will not talk to me. Other people have told me it's just a phase teenagers go through. What should I do?
ANSWER: Your concern about your son is very legitimate, especially
because teens are increasingly at risk for killing themselves. It
may not be "a phase," as some others have suggested to you.
Talking with your son about it may cause you some anxiety, but it
also may save his life. First, we need to look at what the common
signs/symptoms of suicide and depression are. Here are some
warning signs for increased risk of suicide:
1. Expressions of hopelessness (not seeing solutions to problems
2. An actual threat or comment indicating a desire/intention to
3. A previous suicide attempt.
4. Clinical depression (continuous depressed mood, sleep
difficulties, loss of interests or motivation, feelings of guilt
or worthlessness, problems with decision making, decreased energy
or concentration, agitation, and lack of sexual interest).
5. Withdrawing from others and isolation.
6. Losses (of a loved one, job, self-esteem, or financial
problems, for example).
7. A significant change in behavior or personality (especially an
increase in agitation or mood change from very depressed to very
8. Increased consumption of alcohol/drugs.
9. Making arrangements for "when I'm gone" (reviewing insurance
papers, preparing a will, or writing letters).
10. Giving away possessions (jewelry, CD collections).
11. Acquiring means of suicide (stocking up on pills, buying a
gun, for example).
If any of these sounds similar to what you see, it's time to take
the next step. Here are some things you can do if you suspect
someone is suicidal:
1. Ask the person! This may be the most important thing you can
do. Be direct. Ask if he/she is thinking of killing him/herself.
Try not to say things such as, "You're not thinking of doing
anything stupid are you?" or "You must be crazy to think about
2. Evaluate the risk level (see above list).
3. Call a professional (911, the police, crisis hotline,
hospital, or local mental health agency; see list below).
4. Show a sincere interest in what your son tells you. Listen
without judging. Also, be prepared to hear anything, once you
start asking questions.
5. If your son refuses to talk, do not leave him alone until you
find someone he will talk to.
6. Take the person to a professional.
7. Be calm and take control. Dial the hotline number and hand the
phone to him, if he won't do it himself.
The centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that
suicide is the third leading cause of death for persons 15-24.
There is no psychological test that accurately predicts suicide.
Suicide is a tragic personal loss that affects many people.
Suicide leaves survivors (especially loved ones) with a lifetime
of anger, confusion, and guilt. Preventing a suicide may be
difficult, especially if the person is unwilling to talk. You may
save your son's life, however, if you confront him and make every
opportunity available to him.
Suicide is a difficult topic. It especially causes fear when
loved ones are involved. Your son has behaved in a way that
warrants concern and immediate attention. There are a number of
things to consider and to help you assess the situation and
available resources. Your know-ledge of suicide and its
prevention may help save a life.
Here is a list of some local contacts:
-- Crisis Intervention, (920)436-8888;
-- Center for Disease Control and Prevention,1-800-Suicide;
-- Catholic Social Services (920)437-7531 (Green Bay);
(920)734-2601 and (920)725-3066, (Menasha); (920)235-6002
(Oshkosh); (920)684-6651 (Manitowoc); (715)735-7802 and
(Stahl is a counselor with Catholic Social Services, Green Bay.)
Send questions to Counselor's Corner, c/o Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay WI 54305-3825. All questions will be answered in print or through the mail. Identities will remain confidential.