Commentary: Show teens a path out of suicidal darkness


As the headlines are making all too clear: Our children are hurting, and they often see suicide as their only way out.

Nationally, teen suicide rates are on the rise, and unfortunately we’ve experienced that firsthand with a recent suicide in our own community. That is why it is so heartening that the American Academy of Pediatrics this week has issued updated guidelines that call for universal screening for depression for everyone ages 12 and up.

If this seems extreme, keep in mind that only half of adolescents with depression are diagnosed before reaching adulthood. And two-thirds of depressed teens don’t receive access to the care that could help them — or even save their lives.


These screenings can be conducted during yearly check-ups and sports physicals with your pediatrician, and you may need to request referrals to therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists. Higher levels of care, including intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs and inpatient hospitalizations, are additional resources that may be necessary based on severity of symptoms.

At Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, for example, we recently launched the acclaimed After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education (ASPIRE), an evidence-based intensive outpatient program to treat teen anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. ASPIRE offers teens and their families practical tools to overcome current mental health concerns and effectively navigate future challenges.

These multidisciplinary approaches are just a few examples of the resources available in the community and nationwide. But none of them will work if we don’t identify the kids who need them.

The warning signs of suicidal ideation include:

  • Talking about wanting to die;
  • Planning specifics methods of suicide, looking up suicide online;
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live;
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain;
  • Talking about being a burden to others;
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
  • Behavioral changes including increased anxiety and agitation; increased reckless behavior;
  • Sleep changes;
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated;
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge;
  • Displaying extreme mood swings;
  • Giving away personal possessions, saying goodbyes;
  • Decrease in pleasure activities

If you notice any of these signs in your child, talk to your child’s pediatrician or therapist and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or the Didi Hirsh Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline at (877) 727-4747.

If your child expresses any suicidal ideation with intent and/or plan please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the Orange County Crisis Assessment Team (CAT) at (866) 830-6011, which provides 24-hour mobile response services to any adult or child experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

When a teen is deeply depressed or traumatized they might think that suicide is the only option. But all of us — parents, teachers, friends and the medical community — know that there is a different path out of the darkness.

Dr. SINA SAFAHIEH is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry at Hoag.