[STAFF EDITORIAL] Suicide prevention starts with education

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[STAFF EDITORIAL] Suicide prevention starts with education

It’s vital that warning signs of depression are recognized early on, before escalation.

It’s vital that warning signs of depression are recognized early on, before escalation.

Adrienne Gaylord

It’s vital that warning signs of depression are recognized early on, before escalation.

Adrienne Gaylord

Adrienne Gaylord

It’s vital that warning signs of depression are recognized early on, before escalation.

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Learning about how to support friends with mental health issues is an essential skill. In 2017, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have had one or more major depressive episodes according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Major depressive episodes are defined as ‘a period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.’ This 3.2 million represents 13.3% of the adolescent population in the United States.

If you are not suffering from depression, chances are someone around you is. Given the prevalence of depression, it is crucial that students educate themselves on how to support friends and peers who suffer from it.

RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS

Not every case of depression is the same—the way a person walks around with depression is as varied as the possible diagnoses or treatments. But if you notice behavior changes in a friend, rather than brush them off, start a conversation. Even if their changes in behavior aren’t due to depression or another mental health issue, it’s always good to check in.

FOCUS ON SUPPORT

Talk to a trusted adult who can help them get in touch with a health professional. Doctors can do evaluations and rule out any physical conditions that could impact mental health. From there they can provide a referral to a mental health professional, who can diagnose and treat depression or any other mental health issue. Professional help is important for those with depression, especially considering that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, most people suffering from depression need some kind of treatment, usually psychotherapy or medication, to get better.

Beyond guiding your friend towards professional help, be supportive and encouraging, even when you don’t understand the way they are feeling. There are a lot of things to think about when talking to peers about their depression. Acknowledge that your understanding is limited to your experience. Never minimize what they are feeling, even if something seems small to you.

BE A FRIEND

Different things affect people in vastly different ways. Take mentions of death, suicide, or self harm very seriously, even if they seem like jokes. Avoid triggering topics but don’t treat them like they are fragile— they are still the same person they have always been. If you are not sure what they need from you, ask them how you can support them, and suggest options you think would be helpful. Remember that depression is not simply being sad. People with depression experience a range of emotions while still suffering from depression. Once your peer gets access to more resources, be there for them as the process of treatment is long and hard. Remind them that even though it may seem impossible, it will get better.

TAKE ACTION

If someone around you is talking about self harm or suicide, make sure they are safe and talk to a trusted adult immediately. Telling a trusted adult is the first step to supporting and protecting your peer. If someone is making direct statements claiming they are going to commit suicide, do not leave them alone. It is also important not to promise to keep someone’s suicidal thoughts or actions a secret, as telling a trusted adult is the number one priority, and no promise should stop you from doing this. If you fear for their safety, bring them to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

If they don’t have access to a therapist or don’t feel comfortable talking to people about their mental health issues, help them access online resources as well as a trusted adult.

Depression can be a scary thing, but learning how to offer support can change and save lives.

This piece was originally published in the December 2019 print issue.