Never a reason: talking with your teen about depression

Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

If you know a teen or preteen, it is almost certain they have heard about or have watched the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” This may be concerning due to the very graphic and dramatic content of the series, which portrays one girl’s decision to commit suicide.

The content of this series is clearly triggering. If someone is already struggling with depression or has undergone a traumatic event themselves, this series would likely enflame these feelings and memories. Preteens are especially vulnerable to the harmful messages since they are not yet emotionally equipped to fully process the irrational logic portrayed in this series.

A major shortcoming of the series is that it does not offer support contacts after each episode or reflect how adults are available to intervene. How can we talk with our youth regarding the perspective of this recent “Netflix binge” barrage?

First, we need to understand that suicide and related behaviors are symptoms of a mental illness. Early warning signs of mental illness were minimized throughout “13 Reasons.” Hannah did not portray the common affect and demeanor of someone suffering with depression until the very end of the series.

Commonly, suicide is considered an impulsive act when completed by teens. However, there are also signs and symptoms that can be present for weeks, months or years. Warning signs of depression can include:

  • Any changes in eating habits
  • Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much
  • Isolating
  • Irritability/moodiness and passivity
  • Statements of “I am a burden”
  • Questioning the purpose or meaning of their life

For a teen who is struggling, there is often a series of atypical behavior and changes in the teen’s “normal” presentation. Be on the lookout for changes in behavior and be prepared to speak directly with your teen about it.

Get to know the warning signs of suicide.

A common experience and emotion of teenagers is that life is stressful and difficult and that it is never going to get better. Unfortunately, teenagers often fail to reach out to others and share what is going on.

When a teen is going through a difficult situation, connection and communication is a crucial intervention. You want your teen to understand they aren’t as alone and misunderstood as they may think, and that life will get better.

Try these talking points:

  • Try something like: “I noticed that you don’t eat dinner with us anymore and you no longer speak to your friend Amy, what has changed?” 
  • Avoid closed ended questions such as “Is anything wrong?” 
  • Be specific in your descriptions and questions and be sincere. 
  • Ask them how they are feeling. They may not answer but they will know you care.
  • Listen, even if it is difficult not to talk.
  • Point out that they have gotten through difficulties in the past and they will again.
  • Emphasize that you are there for them: “I am not going anywhere, we will get through this together”
  • Avoid “when I was a teen…” type stories.
  • “Rachel, your eyes look sad to me, I know this is hard for you right now.”

The Jed Foundation (JED) and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) also developed a list of 13 talking points for young adults and parents to discuss while watching the series.

While this series has raised the controversial topic of suicide among teens, our communities need to band together to provide resources and outlets for teens so they know help is available.

As a parent, trust your gut. If you are concerned, don’t wait. Seek help.

Supportive resources

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

NAMI – DuPage: 630-752-0066

Linden Oaks Behavioral Health Hospital, 24-hour Help Line: 630-305-5027

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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