Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D.
and the beginning of adulthood is a developmental phase burdened
with stressful events: high school, starting college, pursuing
career goals, forming relationships with friends and significant
others, coping with changing family roles. These stresses can
precipitate life-threatening illnesses and behaviors such as depression,
anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders and even
suicide. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often have their onset
during this time.
During adolescence there is a rapid increase in the number of
youngsters who suffer from depressive illness and have suicidal
thoughts. Several studies indicate that up to 8.3 percent of adolescents
suffer from depression, 20 percent of Americaís teens have had
thoughts about ending their lives and suicide is the third leading
cause of death among teens and young adults.
The most important risk factor in teenage suicide is having a
psychiatric illness. About half of youngsters who kill themselves
have a depressive disorder. Other disorders that place teens at
high risk include aggression, behavioral disorders and substance
While twice as many girls attempt suicide as boys, boys are more
than ten times as likely to kill themselves. This difference appears
to be mainly due to the method used. Girls tend to overdose with
pills which is often less lethal than the use of guns which has
been implicated in more than sixty percent of teen suicides.
Since depressive disorders are implicated in the majority of teen
suicides, an important pathway to preventing suicide is the identification
and treatment of mood disorders. Some of the signs that a teen
or young adult is suffering from depression include: persistent
sadness, irritability or boredom, complaints that nothing is enjoyable
or a decrease in interest in activities or peers, sleep or appetite
changes, difficulty concentrating and poor school performance.
Youngsters with these symptoms should have a diagnostic evaluation
with a mental health professional for possible intervention and
treatment. The two treatments that show the most promise include
antidepressant medication and specialized psychotherapies. They
include cognitive behavioral and interpersonal therapy. (For further
information about mental illness and its treatment in children
and adolescents see www.AboutOurKids.org.)
The National Institute of Mental Health is currently sponsoring
a treatment study of teenagers age 12-17 who are suffering from
depression. The NYU Child Study Center is one of the sites in
NY. For further information call 212-263-8613.
For some teens and young adults outpatient treatment may not be
sufficient or the danger of suicidal behavior may be great. For
them hospitalization may be necessary. The Young Adult Program
at the New York University Child Study Center was established
several years ago to help older teens and young adults whose psychiatric
condition requires hospitalization. It is an intensive psychiatric
inpatient program, which serves the mental health needs of the
often-neglected population of 15 to 24 year-olds. Experts from
NYU in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and nursing,
draw on leading-edge therapeutic techniques and breakthrough pharmacological
research in treating patients. Emphasizing rapid assessment and
individualized attention, this team of experts strives to restore
balance to a young life in turmoil and help the young adult return
to active life. For further information about the program call
Dr. Naomi Weinshenker at 212-263-5956.#
Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D. is the Deputy Director of the NYU Child
Study Center and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry.
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