Adolescents and suicide
Recently, there was this news report of a teenage singer, male, who committed suicide while in the custody of the Nigeria Police. According to the story, he was detained because he lost a valuable phone that was left in his care. What made the story tragic was that the young adult saw suicide as the only way out of his trouble, and successfully took his own life, the police said.
This boy’s case and the recent findings by some psychiatrists is that about 12 per cent of adolescents in Nigeria have attempted suicide. Attempted, the report says. Presumably, therefore, the figure excluded the ones who were successful.
Based on their findings, the psychiatrists called on families to help relatives who show symptoms of depression to seek medical help. They noted that suicide is not a sudden decision to end it all. A suicidal, they say, should have been showing symptoms from an early stage or after they have gone through a traumatic experience. The symptoms, they say is that the person may become unduly sad and loses interest in normal activities like eating or going to work. He will also express a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Can A Child Feel Depressed?
Based on the report that the feeling starts earlier, we wondered if children who are not teenagers could feel depressed. However, a study done elsewhere, suggests that younger children do feel depressed although the information stressed that this has been difficult to accept because depression is about a feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness and uncertainty about the future. All along, therefore, it had been thought that children who are not adolescent could not worry about the future.
However, the researchers were able to determine through interviews and psychological assessment that even nine-year-olds do have mood disturbances and symptoms associated with depression-both acute and chronic depression, noting that as children grow from infancy that experiences which hurt their self-esteem can cause acute depression. Experiences like not doing well at school, social exclusion and the awareness that he is becoming an adolescent could make a child feel uncertain, they observed.
Girls were found to have more symptoms of acute depression than boys. The causes were events like moving from one place to the other, illnesses that needed hospitalization, loss of a parent as a result of death and divorce. The loss of a valued friendship could also make a child feel depressed, they said.
A child who suddenly feels unhappy would wear a sad face, cries easily and is irritable. She may lose interest in activities she does before. If questioned, she may admit to feeling helpless or she may become aggressive or defiant. They may have sleep disturbances, which un-observant parents may fail to notice. But unlike a depressed adult, the child may still eat his food, experiences no constipation or expresses no feeling of guilt they were able to establish.
Acute depression in children lasts a few days or weeks at and may run its course without medical treatment, they stated. But the child needs emotional support from parents. Ask her what makes her feel unhappy and discuss it with her.
They also observed that children may also suffer chronic depression or masked depression-a sad feeling that lasts a long time. The symptoms may include the inability to keep friends, causing trouble for other children. She feels low because she knows only disappointment in her still early life. Such children are afraid to make relationships because it would demand love and trust, attributes they are unwilling to stake. So that instead of loving, such children may choose manipulation as a means of getting to people. They prefer to hide their feelings unlike the acutely depressed ones who cry as a result of their unhappiness. They are also found to be hyperactive, aggressive and delinquent.
A child who suffers chronic depression needs treatment which must involve the whole family, they advised, adding that if one or two of the parents suffer from depression, that effective treatment is only possible when the parents have been treated.
But they stressed that suicide was rare among children who are under the age of 12 years, although it was noted that depression was the major cause among issues like conflict with parents. It was said that boys who are under 12 years are more likely to be depressed and carry on the risks of suicidal behaviours. The girls on the other hand are more likely to be hysterical, manipulative, impulsive and less premeditated in their behaviour.
But what was noted was that even with depression, the thought of suicide would never cross the mind of a child. He gets the idea to end it all when their parents talk about it or have attempted it themselves. Television is another source or they have simply heard it said somewhere.