Depression among teenagers has a higher risk of suicide – 03/14/2023 – Equilibrium
Chilean child and youth psychiatrist Ana Marina Briceño has 20 years of experience in caring for depressed adolescents – something that was limited to her professional scope until, shortly after the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, her own daughter was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
“It was up to me to experience what I had diagnosed so many times,” Briceño tells BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service.
“I thought I would be prepared for something like this, but it was really, really hard.”
The problem is global and severely affects Latin America, where, according to the most recent estimates by Unicef (the UN’s children’s arm), almost 16 million young people between the ages of 10 and 19 have a mental disorder. This is equivalent to 15% of people in this age group.
The saddest face of this phenomenon is suicide: more than 10 teenagers take their own lives every day in Latin America, points out Unicef. It is the third leading cause of death in the 15-19 age group.
Read below the interview with Briceño, who is the author of Depression in teenagers: how to help them face the disease and the keys to preventing it (free translation):
BBC – How do you explain the high number of teenagers with mental disorders today?
Ana Marina Briceno – It is very difficult to give a single reason, because it is a multicausal phenomenon, with several elements.
We saw empirically that the pandemic was very complex for adolescents, and one hypothesis is that depriving them of social interaction at a key age was complex.
But the rise in cases of depression began before the pandemic.
There is evidence associated with social networks of how young people’s constant comparison with others – both their lives and their bodies – increases problems related to mood and anxiety.
It is worth remembering that there is always a question whether society is now more capable of seeing these problems, which were probably more hidden before.
BBC – It is also said that this is a “depressed generation”, with increasing use of antidepressants and frequency of therapies.
Briceño – Yes, there are those who feel that this generation is one of the loneliest ones growing up, because their parents are also buried in social media, doing their thing, and not emotionally available for their children.
In addition, a focus was created on false happiness, in which children are given everything they ask for, so as not to frustrate them, meaning that they do not have the tools to deal with frustration.
Creation has changed. It’s not about blaming one person or the other; they are different cultural contexts.
BBC – How to identify that a teenager suffers from depression?
Briceño – It’s the hardest. We parents, on the one hand, try to understand what happens to our children using adolescence itself as an explanation. So it’s very easy for us to make a wrong diagnosis.
And, on the other hand, young people actively hide their symptoms, either because they don’t want to cause trouble or out of fear.
I would say that the important thing is to be aware of changes in behavior. But not changes of one or two days, which are transitory and typical of adolescence, but changes that go beyond one or two weeks.
You also need to see if these changes occur in more than one environment – not just at home, but also at school or with friends. If the teenager, for example, abandons his interests, and this covers different areas, it is necessary to pay attention and probably ask for help.
BBC – And what are the most common symptoms?
Briceño – If you expect someone who is depressed not to be in the mood, don’t get up… But sometimes they do, they do get up, they are capable of going to a party, but they are irritable for most of the day.
And many people don’t know that irritability is also a symptom of depression. It’s very easy to confuse her with adolescence, for hormonal reasons.
BBC – And how to prevent?
Briceño – First, it is necessary to be clear that it is not by applying all the preventive measures that we are going to ensure that a teenager does not become depressed. The idea is to be able to reduce the risks, but there is no zero risk.
There are many practical elements to cultivate with young children, such as sleeping habits, family meals, encouraging physical or extracurricular activities. Sunlight, vitamin D, spending time away from screens, in nature also help.
And maybe normalize asking for help – being able to talk about your problems. Knowing that sometimes there are bad days, and that’s okay.
Finally, I think it’s important to accompany children and young people in the virtual world. It is common for them to receive tablets and for their parents not to know what happens there.
It’s like sending them to the playground without supervision.
It is necessary to talk about the virtual world, its dangers, what not to do, cyber-bullying, etc.
BBC – And what can parents do to help children with a mental health disorder?
Briceño – The first measure, very important, is to seek professional help. It’s a disease – and if our son had appendicitis, we wouldn’t think of treating him at home.
But, having said that, there are things that we must take into account in order not to create problems: for example, when the attitude of the parents is one of little understanding or empathy, and they see it (depression) as a weakness, without understanding that it could happen to them. anyone. Nobody is free.
BBC – How much has the use of antidepressants among young people increased?
Briceño – It is difficult to know, but unfortunately, pharmacological support for young people has become increasingly necessary, due to the severity of the diseases.
What is seen in practice is that today depression among adolescents is not only more frequent but also more severe, with more symptoms and more suicidal risk – and therefore requires more drug support.
It’s not that all young depressed people need (antidepressants). But if, for example, there was a suicide attempt, we are already in what is called a severe depression and it is very likely that we will need to treat it with medication.
Or when a young person has been undergoing psychological treatment for a long time and there is no improvement. Or in the face of specific symptoms, such as insomnia.
BBC – Experts have warned of an increase in self-injury among teenagers. Is it common, and what is behind it?
Briceño – It’s something that has actually increased exponentially.
When I started in psychiatry, 20 years ago, it was rare. And today it’s the opposite: it’s rare that someone arrives who hasn’t attacked themselves.
Before, this occurred in shelters for minors or among adolescents raised in very vulnerable situations, but now it is more frequent among adolescents who do not have such high risks.
Most often, self-harm has a sense of releasing psychiatric pain through physical pain. To turn one pain into another.
You may also have a sense of guilt, of hurting yourself for feeling guilty. And there’s also an element of addiction: those who need to self-harm to feel reassured – it gives them a drug-like or alcohol-like feeling. And these can’t stop.
If a parent detects self-harm in a teenager, professional help must be sought. Parents often minimize this, but when the teenager reaches this behavior it is because the suffering is too intense.
BBC – And how real is the risk of suicide in these cases?
Briceño – Self-harm differs from the risk of suicide. Self-harmers are unlikely to want to kill themselves that way.
But suicide is a real risk, and any attempt to minimize it leaves us more vulnerable.
I think a lot of times parents go into a state of denial and think their kids are trying to get attention and don’t see it as a real death wish.
But it is known that in every suicide attempt, including the completed ones, there is a portion of the intention to change the environment, but also a portion is a real desire to die.
BBC – Was it difficult to deal with your own daughter’s depression?
Briceño – Much harder than I thought it would be. After so many years helping families, I thought I would be ready, but I wasn’t.
My main finding was how they (teenagers) actively try to hide their symptoms. Sometimes requests for help are very small and subtle.
BBC – And what was more complex?
Briceño – Facing my own mistakes, vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Under the circumstances, you may do what you shouldn’t, not take care of yourself properly, or demand things you shouldn’t demand.
Falling (into the traps) into which all fathers and mothers fall, despite knowing what not to do.
BBC – If you were to give advice to families living in a similar situation, what would it be?
Briceño – Listen at all times. Stay tuned. There is often a dissonance between what parents see and what children feel.
BBC – Is it common for teenagers to overcome depression?
Briceño – These illnesses get better. I always knew, because I saw it several times, that my daughter would get better.
The therapies work. And improvement brings growth and maturity, thanks to experience. Difficulties create psychological resources that will be positive for the rest of their lives.
If you look at it from that perspective, an experience as difficult as this one can make a little more sense.
Where to get help?
CAPS and Basic Health Units (family health, health posts and centers)
CVV – Life Appreciation Center (emotional support and suicide prevention)
188 (free call from any landline or cell phone)
www.cvv.org.br (Chat, Skype or email)
– This text was published in