Mental Health Awareness Month, Depression and Suicide: A Bigger Problem than you May Think

Ralph E. Jones

In this month, as we recognize and concentrate on Mental Health Awareness, many are enjoying good mental health…living in gratitude for doing so. Yet there are many who are living with extreme sadness and despondency…they are suffering from Depression, and (either inside or outside of their awareness) are feeding their epression…increasing their symptomology through worsening thoughts that cause them to become more and more depressed; and for some becoming so despondent that they take their own lives.

Of the three major mental illness diagnosis; Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression; Major Depression is by far the most prevalent; the most common mental disorder in our Nation. Approximately 29 million or 1 in 10 Americans, at one point or another, are suffering from the effects of Depression; and the number of individuals diagnosed with depression increases by about 20 percent per year.

And, among that number, many will experience symptoms so severe that they will commit suicide; from 30,000 to 40,000 each year will commit suicide, and almost one-half million attempts annually; an unhealthy choice to such a treatable condition.

Now, depression is not the only reason people commit suicide, but it is a leading cause of most suicidal ideations and completions. This is something that all of us should be aware of.

As I have written about in past articles, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death of all age groups; but the third leading cause of death of young people ages 15-24, and the 4th leading cause of death for 10-14 year olds. If that does not draw your attention, then listen to this: In past studies conducted by Diana J. Whalen. PhD and colleagues; longitudinal studies as reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that 306 pre-school children in the study, from age 3-7 years of age, had symptoms of depression and had suicidal ideations, and by the time these children of the study turned school age years; 7-12 years of age, 3 out of 4 still had the symptoms.

Without my elaborating on the study, the authors of the study reached conclusions clearly indicating “that suicidal ideations occurring during ages 3 – 7 years confers significant risk for continuation into the school-age period…” The researchers further stated, “…data indicate that death/suicidal statements, behaviors, and actions among young children are strongly associated with distress and psychopathology as well as late suicidal ideation at school age, underscoring the need to attend to this symptom as an important marker of risk.”

In other words, children who relate to having depressive and suicidal symptoms should be attended to immediately, and not taken lightly. Dr. Whalen further concluded from the study that some children as young as 3 years’ experience distress and despair to a degree significant enough to lead them to express the wish to die or to attempt to hurt themselves is striking and disturbing.

Commenting on this study, Charles H. Seannah, MD, and Mary Margaret Gleason, MD. Of the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, concluded that “the numbers of children who express suicidal thoughts and engage in these behaviors are larger than we might have guessed.”

In further conclusion of the study, Dr. Whalen and her colleagues state, “The challenge emanating from this report is neither to dismiss the findings because they violate notions of young children as carefree and happy nor to understand and respond to young children who display suicidal cognitions and behaviors in the same way we understand and respond to older children and adolescents who display suicidality.

What the findings do call for is our best clinical efforts to recognize important indicators of serious psychopathology and distress, to discern relevant contextual features, and to intervene immediately when needed to maintain safety and relieve distress and disability.”

Childhood depression and suicidal ideations may also carry over into the adolescent and adult ages of the individual; and it is all of those individuals who may experience an increase of symptoms and associated behaviors…not just the adolescents and adults as many of us have believed.

For some, these stressors become overwhelming and lead to suicidal ideations and completions. We really need to pay attention to anyone who displays symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations; that child who constantly states that he wants to be with Grandpa and Grandma in heaven, ruminates on thoughts that he is to blame for his parents getting a divorce, etc; for adolescence it may be disdain about their body, etc.; for Senior citizens it may be thoughts of loss of their mate, giving away possessions, etc.

All of the tale-tell signs of serious depression and suicidal ideation are there, we just need to pay attention. It has been constantly found that people who commit suicide have given clues and hints of their impending suicide; for the most part they were not taken seriously by others…” Yes, he often talked about killing himself but I never thought he would actually do it, etc.”

If you or anyone you know are experiencing signs and symptoms of depression, or expressions of wanting to end their life I strongly urge you to reach out to mental health professionals for help…the sooner the better!

Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!