Depression isn’t just one state of mind. It falls along a continuum, from the common blues to serious thoughts of suicide.
When the ups and downs of life turn into longer and longer periods of sadness, it’s time to pay attention, particularly among children and young adults. The effects of depression can seriously impact someone’s life and in some cases lead to suicidal thoughts or plans, and a preoccupation with death and dying.
Adolescents, teenagers and college-aged students can be especially at risk for depression and even suicide, says Louise Murphy, president of Aetna Behavioral Health. “Adolescence is an unsettling time, with so many psychological, physical, emotional and social changes accompanying this phase of life. They may be overwhelmed by pressures from school, social and family life. And younger people typically have not developed the necessary life skills or maturity to cope with setbacks or depression.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association there are five types of depression that can afflict adolescents, teens and college-aged individuals. “Different types of depression require different treatment,” Murphy notes. “And while depression is not the same experience for everyone, it can be triggered by similar events.”
The College Transition
Going to college or leaving home can be stressful for anyone. Research shows that a large number of college students suffer from depression. A survey from the American College Health Association found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point in the previous year.
“There are environmental issues for college kids that can accompany any big life transition,” Murphy said. “Most college students can handle these issues, but for those with predispositions, it can affect the tendency to move into clinical depression.”
Issues that can cause stress that leads to depression include (but aren’t limited to):
- leaving home
- poor eating/sleeping habits
- pressure to do well academically
- too much partying
- experimenting with drugs/alcohol
After losing their son Jed to suicide in 2000, Donna and Phil Satow founded The Jed Foundation to provide programming and resources that help colleges, students and parents recognize and address emotional health issues and prevent suicide. One of the Foundation’s resources for college students includes ULifeline, which allows anyone to search for resources by their university or college. ULifeline is a free, anonymous and confidential resource center. The Foundation also offers tips and tools that can help determine if a student should seek professional help.
One minute, two suicide attempts
According to the Jed Foundation, one in every 10 college students say they have seriously considered suicide in the past year. Just as disturbing is this statistic from the American Association of Suicidology: each year there are more than a million suicide attempts, or one attempt every 31 seconds. Many, but not all, of the people who attempt or commit suicide also have depression. Risk factors for someone to commit suicide also include substance abuse, a preoccupation with death and dying and past suicide attempts. For more suicide statistics, go here.
Some of the risk factors related to suicide include: abusing drugs and other substances, having major depression, having access to lethal means, and displaying impulsive and aggressive behavior, according to Mark Friedlander, M.D., chief medical officer for Aetna Behavioral Health.
Friedlander says that by itself impulsive behavior may be characteristic of adolescent behavior, but in combination with substance abuse, depression, access to lethal means to commit suicide, an acute stress or previous suicide attempts, the risk of self-harm is increased. “Impulsivity can be thought of as a personality trait and can be part of who a person is – some people tend to be very cautious and harm-avoidant, while others are more thrill-seeking and aggressive, which may increase the risk of actions that are not well thought out and potentially harmful” he says.
Murphy suggests that friends and families of loved ones who may be at risk should understand the risk factors, get them professional help and be committed to being proactive in talking to those who need their help.
“In many cases, suicide is preventable,” she notes, but prevention requires awareness of the signs and courage to talk about it. “Depression is surrounded by a stigma. Fear and embarrassment are powerful barriers to seeking or accepting help. Talking about depression can be a first step toward saving your own or someone else’s life.”
Remember, if you are concerned about any aspect of your health, you should seek further evaluation from your doctor. And if you are worried about a friend or family member, learn to recognize the warning signs that it’s time to get involved.