The very thing that may prevent suicide is talking about it, according to Susan Wylie, counseling coordinator at University of Alaska Southeast.
Unfortunately, cultural stigmas around mental illness prevent it.
Wylie makes a plea to parents and educators: Be aware of the stigma, and break it.
Talk ... but what do you say? How does a parent or teacher know when a young person is depressed, suicidal or simply feeling sad?
People can learn what risk factors lead to depression and what are the warning signs that someone may be in danger of killing themselves. No perfect way to prevent suicide exists, but if more people know the clues, it could help, Wylie said.
Mental illness affects a majority of people who commit suicide, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a national group dedicated to suicide prevention and based in Bloomington, Minn.
And one in five teens experience depression before becoming adults, Wylie said.
But being sad, which lasts for a few days and can make someone feel like crying, is different than depression. The symptoms of depression persist and affect the whole body, as well as feelings, thoughts and behavior, Wylie said.
Depression can cause physical problems such as changes in sleeping patterns, headaches or low energy. Emotional signs include frequent crying, feelings of emptiness or increased anger or hostility.
Inner turmoil caused by depression can show outwardly in behavior, such as withdrawing from activities, a drop in grades or expressions of suicidal thoughts. Substance abuse is frequently linked to depression, although it is unclear which one causes the other.
How to know
An adult must watch closely to determine if a teen handles an issue - such as a bad grade on a test - or if problems are piling up.
"It's very hard for a parent to make that assessment of their own child," Wylie said. "But they know when something might be off and they need some help."
Assessments are available in Juneau through the Teen Health Center, Juneau Youth Services or Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Wylie said she regularly counsels young adults who have negative thoughts that get so tangled up they seem overwhelming. Depression causes a downward spiral that feeds on itself and leads to a feeling it can't be controlled.
"It's like trying to fight your way out of a paper bag with your hands tied behind your back," she said.
Signs of risk
Warning signs that teens are in this trap or contemplating suicide can manifest in what they say and do. They might say, "It's just not worth it anymore," or "I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up," Wylie said.
A prior suicide attempt greatly increases the risk of it happening again, according to the American Association of Suicidology, based in Washington, D.C.
Withdrawal from friends and school, conducting "goodbyes" or giving away personal items are signs that intervention is likely needed, according to SAVE.
Conflicted thoughts about suicide are common in those who are contemplating it, and people might talk about it because of this ambivalence, Wylie said.
"A well-timed intervention that expresses caring may be just what is needed to push the balance away from suicide," she said.
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