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What's a parent to do? The warning signs of teenage depression sound like the hallmarks of just being a teenager: irritability, changes in sleep, problems concentrating, sadness and crying.
But spotting depression in a teenager - and then taking the right steps to relieve it - can make the difference between life and death.
Nobody said parenting was easy, and parents today get conflicting information.
For example, some experts offer hope in the newer antidepressant medications. But the manufacturers of Paxil and Effexor have written "Dear Doctor" letters advising against the use of those drugs by teenagers. Studies suggest the drugs actually can increase suicidal thoughts in kids.
The parents of Sean Fitzpatrick, the 16-year-old who brought a gun to Lewis and Clark High School on Monday, did not recognize his state of mind, according to a statement released Tuesday by the boy's attorney.
"He was apparently suffering from severe mental problems which had not been recognized by his family, friends, or teachers," the statement read in part.
The following tips for parents were gathered Tuesday from three experts: Lee Judy of the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C.; Dr. Jeff Lindenbaum, medical director of teen health for Group Health Cooperative in Seattle; and Dr. Michael Manz, a psychiatrist and chief of youth psychiatric services at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.
Encourage kids to exercise, which releases the body's natural opiates - endorphins.
Watch for changes in behavior that last about two weeks. Changes could include aggression or withdrawal, sleeplessness or sleeping a lot. It's the change that's important.
Approach without judgment. "You seem to be different. You used to hang out with your friends, and now you're in your room all the time. What's going on?"
Approach with love. "I'm your parent, and I love you."
Pay attention to your gut feelings as a parent. If you think something's wrong, it probably is.
Take seriously any talk about suicide from a teenager, such as, "I might as well kill myself."
Talking to a mental health counselor can help an adolescent get back on track. But don't rely on school counselors; they have too many students in their caseload.
If considering medication, talk to a psychiatrist, rather than another type of doctor. Be willing to closely monitor for side effects. More research is needed on antidepressants and the developing brain.
Worried parents can get information from a national suicide help line with an easy-to-remember number: (800) SUICIDE. That's (800) 784-2433.
The shred of good news is that youth suicide rates fell between 1990 and 2000, possibly because of better screening and public awareness - although those reasons are guesses, said Judy of the American Association of Suicidology.
The national suicide rate for 15- to 24-year-olds was 13.2 per 100,000 in 1990. It was 10.4 per 100,000 in 2000.
Overall suicide rates also fell during that time period.
Two sidebars appeared with the story:
1. ONLINE QUESTION
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Manz answered readers questions about teenagers and depression Tuesday on The Spokesman-Review's Web site.
Here's an excerpt from the conversation:
Question: What do you do when you know your child is upset and depressed but says, "I don't want to talk about it" and tells you to leave them alone? At what point do you get outside help?
Dr. Michael Manz: The issue of when to get outside counseling is complicated. When the adolescent's world is falling down, their grades are getting worse, they are looking more depressed, clearly that is a time for intervention.
It sounds like you made efforts to talk to your child and were rebuffed. I would continue to inquire and convey your concern, as well as share your observations on how he or she is handling life.
At some point, you might want to contact a counselor to talk to them about this, without your child, to see if something more should be done.
Read the entire transcript at www.spokesmanreview.com/manz.
2. READER COMMENTS
The Spokesman-Review asked readers via e-mail about what more, if anything, could be done to keep guns out of school. Here are some of the responses.
I like what (Spokane Police) Chief Bragdon said about not putting metal detectors into our schools. After all, they are schools! I think our community should have a dialogue, many dialogues, about the root cause of why kids bring weapons to school - terribly violent movies, lack of personal connections, bullying, etc.
Let's not put a Band-Aid on the problem by using metal detectors or extra police. Instead, let's find the cause and as a community do something about it.
Students bringing weapons to school is symptomatic of other problems which are being addressed with resource officers, counselors, proactive teachers and students who are becoming educated to protect themselves and their fellow students. I agree with Police Chief Bragdon that the preventative measures currently being taken are sufficient. Unfortunately, situations still develop despite safeguards being in place. That will always be the case, no matter how many protective steps are taken.
Sandy K. Lawrence
Parents should be more responsible with guns in the home. ... Teachers and school officials should be more aware that students are "in trouble" and advise parents to seek help. Parents should be more aware that their children are "in trouble" and seek help. But in the end, the reality is that those things are not going to happen either because of funding constraints in our school systems or lack of desire (ability, time, and on and on) of parents. That leaves only one solution, as I see it, and that's to do what other public facilities have done. Put in metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and have periodic searches, if necessary and as needed. ... I'm not saying this is the preferred way or the right way, I'm only saying it will work as well as anything can.
It is quite obvious that the only sure way to eliminate weapons is a closed campus and restricted entries with metal detectors. Frankly, I think that is overkill, however, there is no other program that would be as effective.
Hal Campbell I think a lot of teenagers are troubled, but unfortunately severe cuts have been made in programs to help them - for example it's more difficult now to get and keep kids with special needs in special education. Imagine the frustration kids with special learning problems must feel as they try to squeeze into a mainstream system. There are only a few small schools in Spokane that accept kids with behavioral and other problems - kids that just don't fit in. My son goes to the Multi Agency Program, or MAP, that is run by Spokane Mental Health. They have a small building and staff and can only take 28 kids. Imagine how many troubled kids at Lewis and Clark and all the other schools go without intervention, without counseling. District 81 does an excellent job of doing what it can with what it's given. But I know how hard it is to get special help for children with special problems. Catch emotional problems, violent tendencies and depression with early intervention. Spend what it takes, Olympia.
I feel for the young boy who did this act, for his life has drastically changed. I wish there was a better way to profile those who are inclined to act in the manner as this young man. I am in favor of tighter control of weapons in the home. My wish is that I will not have to read about another incidence of this manner for years to come.
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