The next time you take your teen for a checkup, chances are your pediatrician will talk about suicide, bullying and stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends pediatricians routinely ask teenaged patients if they have thoughts of harming themselves, and screen for other factors associated with increased suicide risk, such as depression. Suicide is now the number two cause of death among teenagers 15 to 19 years of age, second only to unintentional injuries, such as from car accidents and poisoning. Teens may be at increased risk of suicide due to:

  • Bullying
  • Using the Internet more than five hours a day
  • Strained parent-child relationship
  • Difficulties in school or not attending school

Most teens with suicidal thoughts or actions have a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, or depression. Teens with suicidal thoughts may:

  • Strongly overreact to things
  • Act impulsively and spend money they do not have, or give things away
  • Change sleeping or eating habits
  • Feel guilty, worthless or hopeless
  • Have less energy or more difficulty paying attention
  • Lose interest in things he or she used to enjoy

If you see these warning signs, seek help for your teen immediately.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all youths ages 12 and older undergo depression screening at least once a year. The AAP stresses that pediatricians should refer patients for mental health evaluation and treatment when needed. Antidepressant medications may be a valuable treatment option and despite serious side effects, the benefits of these medications may outweigh the risks for many patients if prescribed by the teen’s doctor.