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According the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, most parents do NOT realize their extent of their child's depression. Although substance abuse and depression are major factors in adolescent suicide, most parents tended to underestimate the extent of their child's depression and alcohol abuse. To read their Facts for Families page on Teen Suicide, click here.

TRUER WORDS WERE SELDOM SPOKEN... than by Brian O'Reilly (Fortune, January, 1990, "Why grade 'A' execs get an 'F' as parents") who commented that the most important thing a parent can do for a child is to encourage a high sense of self-esteem, and that this is much easier said than done.

The main reaction I have to news of someone's suicide, and it is news that is heard shockingly often, is how sad it is that people could believe that the best thing that could happen for the world, their families and themselves is that they not be in it. How little faith and pride can you have in your contribution to the world to believe that? How much things must have gone wrong in your young life to believe that your mother, your friends and people you would meet if you had lived would all be better off if you were dead! Yes, it reflects a low estimation of your own value in a very extreme way.

At this point in courses like this it is sort of traditional to give some statistics on the increase in adolescent suicide and follow that up with a multiple choice question on a quiz about whether it has doubled, tripled or increased by 50% in the past few decades. As a matter of fact, it has tripled, but you won't find me asking any questions about that. I think those sorts of questions trivialize the not at all trivial fact that OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING!

Last week, one of my daughter's close friends committed suicide. He was a senior in high school. He had friends. He was going to graduate from school this year. He had some problems, but nothing really extraordinary - and who doesn't have problems? And then he was dead.


For every suicide attempted, there are between 8 and 20 attempts. We are not quite sure how many, because some adolescents who fail may never tell anyone about it. Up to 10% of those who tried suicide and fail, will complete their attempt later.

WARNING SIGN OF SUICIDE # 2 -- PARENTAL ALCOHOL ABUSE 30-40% of adolescents who attempt suicide are children of parents who abuse alcohol

(Above statistics according to the 1989 Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, Department of Health & Human Services)

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Adolescents who use alcohol and other drugs have repeatedly been shown to be at greater risk of suicide. Alcohol is a depressant, and may make a youth who has been depressed and considering suicide even more depressed. Alcohol (as anyone who has ever had a drink too many knows well) impairs cognitive functioning. A youth who has had too much to drink, or has been using drugs, may not be thinking normally.

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I know all about depression, or something about it, anyway. I know the measures that are used, the warning symptoms, such as sleep disorders - not being able to sleep at night, or sleeping all the time, losing interest in activities that used to be very important, losing or gaining a lot of weight suddenly, a sudden drop in grades, crying spells. I don't know about depression, though, in the way that I know what it means to be a mother, that is, by having experienced it. I did read a book recently, which I would highly recommend, by Tracy Thompson, who is a reporter for the Washington  Post. The name of the book is The beast: A journey through depression. Many people who have, like Thompson, suffered (and that is the correct word) from depression say it is a very accurate portrayal. What struck me most was a small part toward the end, when she recounts how, after being on Prozac for a while, she walked out of the courthouse where she was working one day and thought, "It's nice out. I think I'll take a walk." To me, that really brought home how depression really is a mental illness, how it really is different from normal.
    I think I have a pretty normal life. Lots of days, I think it is too bad that my children did not come with a parenting manual. I get stressed out from meeting deadlines. My husband can be annoying. On the other hand, there are many days, and many minutes in every day, when I look at each of my children and think how proud I am of them. I think about how much I love them and how lucky I am to be married to a great guy. I drive through the reservation and think how cool it is that I get to see buffalo and wild turkeys and all of these incredible sights that most of the people I know will never see. Almost every morning, as I drive my kids to school, I look down the hill at the ocean and think how I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places on God's earth. Then I think about what it must be like to not feel that way for months or years on end. No wonder life does not seem worth living.

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If a student who has always been an excellent student starts to fail her classes, one who has always been interested in sports no longer cares if he makes the varsity team, or a youth who has generally been very talkative and outgoing becomes very quiet and withdrawn - I would take it very seriously.

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Two points to remember:

  • About one-third of adolescents who attempt suicide show no particular warning signs.

Are you nervous yet? I don't have to tell you, because you know, and I know, that the rate of suicide among Native Americans, including on the  Spirit Lake Reservation, is heartbreakingly too high. I mean the word heartbreaking in a very literal sense. After my daughter and her friends crying for a week, and them going out to where the young man died and setting up an altar (it is a Latino tradition), attending the wake, all the funeral preparations, and the funeral, I found myself thinking, "Now, finally, things will get back to normal!' Then it hit me that, for his mother, things will never really be back to normal.

Well, I could go on about these issues forever, but I realize that you do not have infinite amounts of time. So, that leaves you with choices.

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