Untreated depression a serious risk factor for suicide

Cameron Morelli, Editor-in-Chief

Although the holiday season is often associated with cheeriness and joy, some believe that the stress of preparing for holiday events contributes to higher suicide and depression rates. This season can also serve as a reminder of the loved ones lost by many since their absence is emphasized when families and friends unite for the holidays.

Despite the additional anxiety experienced during the holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates are actually the lowest in December and climax in the fall and spring. Nonetheless, suicide remains a serious problem, particularly among teens.

In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States. The stresses of high school, finding
oneself, and fitting in can be particularly difficult for many teens.

“Personally, [my] suicidal thoughts occur when people judge and make me feel unworthy or unaccepted — like I’m not good enough,” senior Erin Gust, who suffers from depression, said. “Eventually, it comes to the point where you just can’t deal with it anymore and want to end it all.”

Reasons why teens commit suicide range widely, but according to NAMI, some of the major causes include major disappointment, failure, rejection and experiencing family turmoil. These risk factors, however, are usually not the direct causes of suicide in teens.

According to a report in 2004 by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 90 percent of those who die by committing suicide suffer from depression, a mental disorder, or a substance-abuse disorder. Those who suffer from these and other disorders have difficulty managing stresses such as failure and rejection and are unable to realize that these stresses are not permanent. Therefore, disappointment, failure, rejection, and loss are often not the direct causes of suicide in teens but stimuli for suicide in those that suffer from mental or substance-abuse disorders.

“[Negative thoughts] usually come gradually,” Gust said. “I’ll be having a good couple of days, and then all of a sudden I can have a bad moment. I learned from my therapist Nick Palun that at those moments I’m not in my rational mind and, therefore, I over-think situations with a negative twist.”

Several studies also suggest that those who attempt suicide have low levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps control impulsive thoughts and actions. This is why antidepressant drugs, which affect serotonin levels, are used to treat depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I’m already on my third different type of medicine because it takes awhile to find the right one,” Gust said. “I just think most people don’t take depression seriously and sometimes joke around about it.”

Triggers of depression and suicidal thoughts vary widely among individuals, and in some cases, they can even arise seemingly out of nowhere.

“The school psychologist, Jennifer [Shirron], told me that with depression, there doesn’t always have to be a reason why I feel the way I do; it just happens,” Gust said. “That’s what frustrates a lot of people when I’m in that state because they look for an answer to fix it, but there’s usually never an answer.”

Often, those contemplating suicide feel lonely and alienated, so it is important to remind loved ones who suffer from these feelings that they are not alone. It is also important to listen intently and take the conversation seriously.

“People say ‘just be happy,’ but that makes it worse,” Gust said. “It’s like telling someone who has cancer to ‘just get better.’ It doesn’t work that way. I have clinical depression and it’s a real illness that can only be helped with treatment and medicine just like any other illness.”

Depression and suicidal thoughts can take a large toll on one’s life, affecting virtually all aspects including relationships with others, work, and school.

“Last year I had three AP classes and now I only have one, but I’m still struggling more than I did last year,” Gust said. “Believe me, if being happy was a choice, I wouldn’t be feeling this way.”