A Glendale Unified psychologist and a mental health services coordinator offered parents direction Thursday night in recognizing depression in teens in order to better prevent suicide.
Glendale Unified psychologist Ilin Magran said during a talk hosted by the CV Alliance that depression can weigh on a teen’s whole person and affect how they think, feel and behave.
But unlike adults, depression in teens and young people can make them appear more distressed, according to Karen Carlson, who is a mental health services coordinator for the school district.
“They’ll be more agitated and touchy,” Carlson said, adding that they are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as driving too fast.
Other signs of depression entail a teen seeming withdrawn, not participating in his or her normal routines with friends or family or changed sleeping and eating habits.
In elementary-aged students, depression can appear in the form of stomach aches or headaches, Magran said.
Aside from depression, other suicidal triggers can be the loss of a romance, death of a friend or family member, humility suffered by the teen, an academic crisis, abuse or an argument with parents.
They also talked about the self-injury in which teens can engage, such as cutting or burning parts of their bodies as a way to externalize inner pain.
They advised to look at whether kids keep collections of pins, clips, scissors, razors, glass or other sharp objects and watch for any bruises, scars, cuts and burns.
When students in Glendale schools threaten to commit suicide, school officials act immediately, Magran said.
When the threat from the student is direct, either posted on social media or on a note left behind in class, among other ways, officials will call in county mental health officials.
Other times, students’ personal trials or signs that they are injuring themselves can surface in their art or writing projects in class.
Magran encouraged parents to discuss suicide with their teens, saying that although some people believe that just by talking about it, a teen is more likely to commit suicide, that is a misperception, she said.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about it,” Magran said.
Carlson also encouraged parents to engage children in everyday discussions using a distancing method that can prove effective but less infringing. She suggested asking how their day was while cooking, driving or even with a parent’s face buried in a newspaper, so they’re physically separated from the teen.
Magran and Carlson also encouraged parents to accept their teens for who they are, and to learn their strengths.
If they realize their child is physically injuring himself or herself, they suggested to act with compassion instead of criticism and seek help from a school counselor or psychologist.
“Don’t keep cutting a secret,” Magran said.
If students are suicidal, Magran advised parents not to leave them alone, and get professional help.
For more information, call the Los Angeles County Suicide Prevention Center at (877) 727-4747.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.