January 29, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)
There are said to be occasions when a wise man kills himself, but generally speaking it is not an excess of reason that makes people take their own lives.
If I had to pick a part of my life that I would like to re-live, it would certainly not be my teen years. Sure, there was that first kiss, but in most respects adolescence was very confusing and sometimes very painful. Despite the large number of things that I learned, I would not want to relive my army years, which were also during my teen years.
What provoked this column was an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Derek J. Moore entitled "Detecting Depression."
He cites the CDC (Center for Disease Control) as stating that 1,600 teen suicides occur each year. He credits a drop to zero of teen suicides in Sonoma county to life-skills classes. He does not state what the teen suicide rate was before those classes were started. The classes discuss suicide, and may help to prevent it.
He quotes a "life-skills" teacher as saying that he tries to instill in his students the idea that depression is like any other treatable illness and that "If you have a chemical imbalance, you go to the doctor."
I don't believe it. First of all, there is no evidence that a chemical imbalance is involved at all and if you had a chemical imbalance, unless it is in your blood sugar, your doctor couldn't do much about it.
Depression in teenagers is as normal as zits. Sure, not every adolescent gets depressed, but neither does every adolescent have zits. A certain amount of what we consider insanity is also normal, just as certain emotional problems are common in women during the menopause (which is partly chemical).
Consider the fact that your childhood is usually controlled by very tolerant parents who accept the problems of childhood as normal and usually tolerate many of those problems. Why not? Their parents tolerated them. It would be convenient if a teenager could become an instant adult, but that is impossible.
Perhaps the best approach to teen depression is a combination of listening, trying to understand, and reassuring the teen-ager that what he is going through is perfectly normal and , most important, that it will pass with time.
I believe that a significant element in the suicide of young people is the belief that there will be a better life after death. All young people, and most older ones, believe what they have been taught. Many religions teach that there will be a better life after death. The Catholic church countered the belief in a heaven, which made suicide a desirable end, by declaring suicide to be a mortal sin that would deny a person entrance into heaven. Had they not done so, suicide might be much more common than it is among Catholics, especially in times when there was more general misery than there is today. The Moslem religion does not consider suicide sinful, nor does the Shinto religion. In these religions it is considered honorable under certain circumstances. For members of these cultures, suicide is more common.
The worst thing that can be done is to treat thoughts of suicide as a disease, which it isn't. The kid should be informed of the fact that almost all miserable things will pass with time, even very severe physical or emotional pain. However, if the kid who contemplates suicide acts on those feelings, it will end the only life that he has, which can be pretty wonderful.
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