Depression & Suicide: Getting Help

Trevor used to be able to talk to his friends when he was feeling down, but as his depression gets worse, he doesn’t have much interest in hanging out. He spends most of his time alone in his room, and is starting to wonder if anyone would even miss him if he were gone. Trevor isn’t sure how to get help, and his friends don’t know what to do, either.

What do you do if you think you might be clinically depressed?

Talk to a doctor.
-There could be underlying causes of your depression that a doctor can help alleviate, such as hypothyroidism or mono.
-Your doctor can help you find a therapist, or in some cases could even prescribe you an anti-depressant.
Take care of your body.
-Get enough sleep,
-Exercise regularly — it releases chemicals that can help balance and improve your mood.
-Go outside! – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is seasonal depression that comes from shorter days and limited exposure to the sun. Take a walk around the block every morning or on your way home from school to try to soak up the sun when you can.
Talk to a mental health professional or counselor.
-Get a recommendation from your pediatrician or school counselor.
-Explain how you’re feeling to an adult you trust, and let them know that you’d like to talk to a professional.
-If you’re worried about confidentiality, remember that a mental health professional has to keep everything you say confidential, unless he or she has reason to believe that you are going to hurt yourself or someone else

What do you do if you are having suicidal thoughts?
-If you are having thoughts of suicide (anything from “everyone would be better off if I were dead” to a specific plan or fantasy of dying), you should reach out to someone you trust right away. Your life is valuable. Let someone know that you’re struggling.
-The worst thing you can do is keep your suicidal thoughts to yourself. Teenagers are naturally impulsive — you could feel okay today, and seriously hurt yourself tomorrow. You don’t have to be at rock bottom to reach out to someone — get help as soon as you can.
-Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

How can you help a friend who is depressed?
Depression is so common (affecting an estimated 2.8 million teens), so you’ll most likely be called upon to help a friend or loved one who is struggling at some point. Here’s how to help:
DO: Listen when they want to talk.
DON’T: Perpetuate their depression or let their outlook influence yours. You can support your friend without encouraging them.
DO: Remind your friend that things get better.
DON’T: Argue with your friend about their outlook or mood, or become frustrated by how he should or shouldn’t feel. Remember that he can’t turn his depression off and on.
DO: Be patient, even if they stop reaching out to you. Check in on your friend and let her know that you are thinking of her and care about her.
DON’T: Avoid or alienate your friend, even if he is difficult to be around.
DON’T: Take their depression personally. If your friend withdraws or spend less time with you, it isn’t your fault.
DO: Tell an adult you trust if you think your friend is going to hurt herself or someone else.
DON’T: Worry that you will lose his trust or break your promise to keep his secret. Whether your friend realizes it or not, she is reaching out to you for help.

What are some warning signs that a friend might be suicidal?
-Frequently talking about suicide or death
-Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty
-Suffering from untreated depression
-Engaging in self-destructive behavior (like cutting, drinking, or reckless driving)
-Losing interest in friends, family, or activities they used to enjoy

How can you help a friend who you think might be suicidal?
If you don’t know, ask.
-Make it clear that you’re worried because you care about her.
-Try saying something like, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been coming to practice lately, and you seem down all the time. Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself?” He may brush you off, but there’s just as good of a chance that he wants to talk too.
-Don’t ask in the hallway between classes or in front of a big group — make sure you have the time and attention to listen if she wants your help.
Be there to listen
-Be supportive and patient.
-If your friend seems in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone.
-Walk her to the school counselor, to talk to her parents, or to another adult you trust. Tell the adult what’s going on and make sure your friend isn’t left alone.
Tell an adult you trust.
-If your friend is depressed, having suicidal thoughts, or self-harming, he needs help.
-Don’t worry about betraying her trust, even if she swore you to secrecy. You don’t have to tell the whole school or everyone you know, just one adult you trust, like a school counselor or your friend’s parents or a youth group adviser. 

If someone you know has a plan to hurt or kill his or herself, call his or her parents immediately. If their parents don’t respond or react appropriately, call 911.

Special thanks to our experts:

Lois Flaherty, MD, Child development psychiatrist, Former president of ASAP (the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry), and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard University

Rhonda C. Boyd, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

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