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TEEN SUCIDES

Suicides among young people continue to be a serious problem. Each year around the world., thousands of teenagers commit suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds.

Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up. For some teenagers, divorce, the formation of a new family with step-parents and step-siblings, or moving to a new community can be very unsettling and can intensify self-doubts. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems and stress.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The child or adolescent needs to have his or her illness recognized and diagnosed, and appropriate treatment plans developed. When parents are in doubt whether their child has a serious problem, a psychiatric examination can be very helpful.

Many of the signs and symptoms of suicidal feelings are similar to those of depression.

Parents should be aware of the following signs of adolescents who may try to kill themselves:

  • change in eating and sleeping habits
  • withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
  • drug and alcohol use
  • unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • marked personality change
  • persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • not tolerating praise or rewards

A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:

  • complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
  • give verbal hints with statements such as: I won't be a problem for you much longer, Nothing matters, It's no use, and I won't see you again
  • put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
  • become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)

If a child or adolescent says, I want to kill myself, or I'm going to commit suicide, always take the statement seriously and immediately seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. People often feel uncomfortable talking about death. However, asking the child or adolescent whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Rather than putting thoughts in the child's head, such a question will provide assurance that somebody cares and will give the young person the chance to talk about problems.

If one or more of these signs occurs, parents need to talk to their child about their concerns and seek professional help from a physician or a qualified mental health professional. With support from family and appropriate treatment, children and teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to a more healthy path of development.


ASPERGERS DISORDER

Asperger’s Disorder was a term previously used to describe one of the pervasive developmental disorders. Children and adolescents diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder had problems in the development of social skills, often experiencing difficulty interacting with peers. They also tended to display unusual, eccentric or repetitive behaviors.

Asperger’s Disorder was sometimes referred to “high functioning autism.” This is because many of the children diagnosed with the disorder had average or above average intelligence and near normal development of speech and language.


In 2013, the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder was removed from the newly revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). Children previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder were included in the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The new definition covers children who display problems with communication and social interactions. For example, they may respond inappropriately in conversations or misread non-verbal cues. They may also have difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be overly dependent on routines, unusually sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on specific items.

The decision to combine the categories grew out of research demonstrating that Asperger’s was not actually a separate “disorder.” Instead, children previously diagnosed with Asperger’s were better and more accurately described as having a disorder “on the autism spectrum.” Researchers also hope that the improved accuracy and consistency of the diagnosis will lead to enhanced research on the cause, treatment and ultimately prevention of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists have the training and expertise to evaluate Autism Spectrum Disorders. They can also work with families to design appropriate and effective treatment programs. Currently, the most effective treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder involves a combination of psychotherapy, special education, behavior modification, and support for families. Some children will also benefit from treatment with medication.

The outcome for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is related to intellectual functioning and communication skills. Children with normal or above normal intelligence and normal or near normal speech and language often finish high school and attend college. Although difficulties with social interaction and awareness may persist, they can often do well in specific work settings and develop lasting relationships with family and friends. Access to ongoing counseling, support and assistance increases the likelihood of a positive and successful outcome.


CONDUCT DISORDER

"Conduct disorder" refers to a group of behavioral and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as "bad" or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse or neglect, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder may exhibit some of the following behaviors:

Aggression to people and animals

Destruction of Property

Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing

  • has broken into someone else's building, house, or car
  • lies to obtain goods, or favors or to avoid obligations
  • steals items without confronting a victim (e.g. shoplifting, but without breaking and entering)

Serious violations of rules

  • runs away from home

Children who exhibit these behaviors should receive a comprehensive evaluation by an experience mental health professional. Many children with a conduct disorder may have coexisting conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, ADHD, learning problems, or thought disorders which can also be treated. Research shows that youngsters with conduct disorder are likely to have ongoing problems if they and their families do not receive early and comprehensive treatment. Without treatment, many youngsters with conduct disorder are unable to adapt to the demands of adulthood and continue to have problems with relationships and holding a job. They often break laws or behave in an antisocial manner.

Treatment of children with conduct disorder can be complex and challenging. Treatment can be provided in a variety of different settings depending on the severity of the behaviors. Adding to the challenge of treatment are the child's uncooperative attitude, fear and distrust of adults. In developing a comprehensive treatment plan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist may use information from the child, family, teachers, community (including the legal system) and other medical specialties to understand the causes of the disorder.

Behavior therapy and psychotherapy are usually necessary to help the child appropriately express and control anger. Special education may be needed for youngsters with learning disabilities. Parents often need expert assistance in devising and carrying out special management and educational programs in the home and at school. Home-based treatment programs such as Multisystemic Therapy are effective for helping both the child and family.Treatment may also include medication in some youngsters, such as those with difficulty paying attention, impulse problems, or those with depression.

Treatment is rarely brief since establishing new attitudes and behavior patterns takes time. However, early treatment offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future.


ATTENTION-DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER

Supported by a grant from The Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation.

Parents are distressed when they receive a note from school saying that their child won't listen to the teacher or causes trouble in class. One possible reason for this kind of behavior is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Even though the child with ADHD often wants to be a good student, the impulsive behavior and difficulty paying attention in class frequently interferes and causes problems. Teachers, parents, and friends know that the child is misbehaving or different but they may not be able to tell exactly what is wrong.

Any child may show inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, or hyperactivity at times, but the child with ADHD shows these symptoms and behaviors more frequently and severely than other children of the same age or developmental level. ADHD occurs in 3-5% of school age children. ADHD typically begin in childhood but can continue into adulthood. ADHD runs in families with about 25% of biological parents also having this medical condition.
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A child with ADHD often shows some of the following:

  • trouble paying attention
  • inattention to details and makes careless mistakes
  • easily distracted
  • loses school supplies, forgets to turn in homework
  • trouble finishing class work and homework
  • trouble listening
  • trouble following multiple adult commands
  • blurts out answers
  • impatience
  • fidgets or squirms
  • leaves seat and runs about or climbs excessively
  • seems "on the go"
  • talks too much and has difficulty playing quietly
  • interrupts or intrudes on others

There are three types of ADHD. Some people have only difficulty with attention and organization. This is also sometimes called Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. This is ADHD inattentive subtype. Other people have only the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. This is ADHD-hyperactive subtype. The Third, and most commonly identified group consists of those people who have difficulties with attention and hyperactivity, or the combined type.

A child presenting with ADHD symptoms should have a comprehensive evaluation. Parents should ask their pediatrician or family physician to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can diagnose and treat this medical condition. A child with ADHD may also have other psychiatric disorders such as conduct disorder, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder. These children may also have learning disabilities.

Without proper treatment, the child may fall behind in schoolwork, and friendships may suffer. The child experiences more failure than success and is criticized by teachers and family who do not recognize a health problem.

Research clearly demonstrates that medication can help improve attention, focus, goal directed behavior, and organizational skills. Medications most likely to be helpful include the stimulants (various methylphenidate and amphetamine preparations) and the non-stimulant, atomoxetine. Other medications such as guanfacine, clonidine, and some antidepressants may also be helpful.

Other treatment approaches may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skills training, parent education, and modifications to the child’s education program. Behavioral therapy can help a child control aggression, modulate social behavior, and be more productive. Cognitive therapy can help a child build self-esteem, reduce negative thoughts, and improve problem-solving skills. Parents can learn management skills such as issuing instructions one-step at a time rather than issuing multiple requests at once. Education modifications can address ADHD symptoms along with any coexisting learning disabilities.
Video: ADHD Treatment Options (use your browser's back button to return to this page.)

A child who is diagnosed with ADHD and treated appropriately can have a productive and successful life.
Video: ADHD and Supporting School Success

For additional information, click here to listen to an ADHD expert (free account necessary).

DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN AND TEENS

Not only adults become depressed. Children and teenagers also may have depression, as well. The good news is that depression is a treatable illness. Depression is defined as an illness when the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function.

About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attentional, learning, conduct or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

The behavior of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behavior of depressed adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of signs of depression in their youngsters.

If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Persistent boredom; low energy
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Low self esteem and guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self destructive behavior

A child who used to play often with friends may now spend most of the time alone and without interests. Things that were once fun now bring little joy to the depressed child. Children and adolescents who are depressed may say they want to be dead or may talk about suicide. Depressed children and adolescents are at increased risk for committing suicide. Depressed adolescents may abuse alcohol or other drugs as a way of trying to feel better.

Children and adolescents who cause trouble at home or at school may also be suffering from depression. Because the youngster may not always seem sad, parents and teachers may not realize that troublesome behavior is a sign of depression. When asked directly, these children can sometimes state they are unhappy or sad.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for depressed children. Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Comprehensive treatment often includes both individual and family therapy. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) are forms of individual therapy shown to be effective in treating depression. Treatment may also include the use of antidepressant medication. For help, parents should ask their physician to refer them to a qualified mental health professional, who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.