RIP Robin Williams and Attention to Depression

With the recent suicidal death of the talented Robin Williams, (love him or hate him, he’s talented) talks of mental illness spill from every news station, radio show, tabloid magazine, and hashtags on twitter. Rumors, possibly truths, are using words like depression, addiction, suicide, and mental illness. Such discussions on mainstream media are hot topic until the latest sweep of something better breaks the headlines tomorrow morning.

After a discussion with a parent today about my client (her child) being admitted inpatient for thoughts of suicide, and recent media hype about depression, I began to question whether adults are fully informed on recognizing such symptoms in our young people.

But, depression is depression, right? Not exactly, and certainly depression differs when comparing adults to child and adolescents.

So what should we look for?

Look for time. We’ve all experience feeling “depressed,” and that is understandable; but, when those feelings last more than two weeks, become concerned.

It’s not just sadness. Adolescents and children experience “depression” differently, and it can be perceived as irritability, anger and/or moodiness, by adults, parents, and teachers, even peers. Be aware of what is normal, and notice if the child has particular and ongoing irritability.

Big changes. Depression changes the way a person feels and thinks, which influences the way he/she behaves. Adolescents and teenagers are no different. Watch for those changes in behavior. Keep an eye for grades dropping, more trouble at school, changes in eating habits (eating more or eating less). Look for significant changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping more and having difficulty sleeping. Most adolescents and teens are social creatures; so when they withdraw from friends and family (more than the usual not wanting to hang with mom or dad), or take notice.

The same symptoms. Not all depression symptoms are different between adults and children. There are several that can be very similar. Feelings of worthlessness, sadness, crying are key elements that indicate depression in teens. Listen for self-defeating comments about oneself, crying unexplainably, quick to anger for no apparent reason, genuine moping around that is unusual.

Talk about Suicide. Yes, it is ok to mention the “s” word. I can promise with all the media coverage of suicide from every angle, Robin Williams to stories about teens killing themselves, mentioning suicide doesn’t give teens and adolescent the idea. Open discussion helps address the potential elephant in the room, and while awkward, the conversation could shine light on something serious that is happening.

Depression can be difficult for those feeling it and those watching someone they love experience it. Talk about it. Don’t assume that a teenager or adolescent has or doesn’t have those feelings; be proactive in not allowing that child to feel alone in a room full of people. rw

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