The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 15, 2001 Issue
Counselor's Corner

'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 or stresses).

2. An actual threat or comment indicating a desire/intention to die.

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 optimistic).

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 killing yourself."

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 (715)735-3539 (Marinette).

(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.

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