Signs of Depression and Suicide
Matilda R. Cuomo & Margaret I. Cuomo Maier, M.D.
three pillars of support for children are the home, the school
and the community. When one of these supports is inadequate or
even missing, the child suffers. The children who are at risk
of dropping out of school are designated by their teachers to
the Mentoring USA program. We recruit and provide trained volunteer
mentors for each child, establishing a one-to-one relationship.
The mentor is given training and many resources to help the relationship
flourish and become meaningful. The mentor is a positive role
model who can direct and counsel the child through many challenging
situations in life.
the bonding of the mentor and the mentee, the mentor is able to
assist the child in solving his or her problems. Especially during
the teenage years, the children can express their anxieties and
fears. In a real sense, it is the mentor who can fill a void in
the child’s life, listen to the child; realize the need for professional
assistance and get the help the child needs. Mentoring USA’s concept
is to help the child as early as possible, from grades K-12.
During the sensitive adolescent period, children can lose their
self-esteem and can become depressed. When the mentor becomes
aware of the child’s symptoms, which can be serious, the parents
are informed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH), up to 2.5 percent of children, and up to 8.3 percent of
adolescents in the United States suffer from depression. In more
recent decades, the onset of depression has been occurring earlier,
and often recurs and continues into adulthood. In fact, once a
young person has experienced an episode of major depression, she
or he is at risk for yet another episode within the next five
At higher risk for depression are children who have an attention
or learning disorder or who are under stress, or experience loss,
such as the death of a parent. Other risk factors include abuse
or neglect and the break-up of a romantic relationship.
Depression in children and adolescents is associated with an increased
risk of suicidal behavior. Boys and girls are at equal risk for
depressive disorders in childhood, but girls are twice as likely
as boys to develop depression during adolescence.
The increase in the rate of adolescent suicide over the past decade
has been widely attributed to changes in the social environment,
and in particular, in the diminishing quality and cohesion of
the family unit.
What are the symptoms of depression in children and adolescents?
Here are several that have been reported by the American Psychiatric
Association: inappropriate guilt, or feelings of worthlessness;
persistent sad or irritable mood; loss of interest in activities
once enjoyed; difficulty sleeping or oversleeping; psychomotor
agitation or retardation; loss of energy; significant loss of
change in appetite or body weight; difficulty concentrating; thoughts
of death or suicide.
Another serious concern is a child who is contemplating suicide.
Some of the warning signs of suicide as noted by the NIMH are:
anger and rage; missed school or poor performance; difficulty
with relationships; drug and/or alcohol abuse; reckless behavior.
Herbert Hendin, M.D., author of Suicide in America, notes
that the parents of suicidal children convey a sense of emotional
detachment from the child. It has been suggested that when these
children experience academic failure, they also risk the loss
of parental love. Other possible causes of depression, as noted
by the NIMH, are genetic vulnerability, hospitalization, especially
for a chronic illness and rejection of the child by a caretaker.
An increased rate of depression is found in children of parents
with bipolar disorder.
Alan Lipschitz, M.D., author of College Student Suicide,
reports that in contrast to the rebellious and aggressive behavior
frequently observed in suicidal teenagers in high school, suicidal
college students tend to be quiet and withdrawn, and are not usually
drug and alcohol abusers. While there are many reasons why college
students attempt suicide, hopelessness and the pressure to succeed
appear to be key factors. How should parents, caregivers and friends
relate to the suicidal young person? Above all, it is important
to be a good listener, trustworthy and nonjudgmental. The young
person at risk for suicide must believe that she/he is respected
Awareness of mental health issues that affect children and adolescents
is essential for parents, teachers, and mentors. By providing
a caring, attentive, mature adult presence in a young person’s
life, a mentor can serve as a significant support system for a
young person at risk.#
R. Cuomo is the Founder and Chair of Mentoring USA, Margaret Cuomo
Maier is a physician.
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