Monday, March 01, 2010

Preventing Teen Suicide

The suicide death of Marie Osmond’s 18-year-old son Michael Blosil pushes the issue of teen suicide into the headlines.

A friend of mine also lost a son to suicide. She regrets not seeking psychiatric care for him. “Surely Marie Osmond’s son must have had the best of care,” she says. “This just shows suicide can happen in any family.”

According to news reports, Osmond’s son had battled depression throughout his life.

Depression does not discriminate – any more than heart disease or diabetes do.

Like an estimated one-third of teens with depression, Blosil had become addicted to substances. He underwent treatment for substance abuse two years ago.

News accounts say Blosil told friends that he felt hopeless, and that he didn’t “fit in.”

Depression distorts thinking. It’s part of the insidiousness of the illness.

In our DVD Depression: True Stories, 18-year-old Mike Haas describes how the symptoms of depression contributed to his suicidal thoughts:

“I felt like I was just sinking in the ocean with like a weight strapped to my feet,” Haas says. “The pressure was just unbearable. I couldn’t breathe. I was just panicky, and I would lay in my bed in the fetal position for days, trying to make myself as small as I could, so that the pressure might be lessened a little bit.”

Haas received what turned out to be lifesaving treatment during two hospitalizations. He benefited from individual and family therapy and from anti-depressant medication. Today he’s in college and doing well. Mike knows depression can come back, so he’s vigilant.

At first, his parents had denied his signs of depression. But when they learned from a school counselor that Mike was talking about suicide, they acted immediately to get him professional help. And Mike is grateful.

Denial is not uncommon. Mental illness remains greatly misunderstood, which contributes to the stigma often associated with it and prevents many people from seeking and receiving potentially lifesaving treatment.

Often people who are depressed claim that, if you haven’t lived with the disease, you can’t imagine what it’s like.

In our booklet, Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression, Dr. Jefferson Prince, a child psychiatrist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, offers this description of the physical effects of depression.

“It’s as if you put a fifty-pound sack on every day and run through water. You get tired, and eventually can’t bear it any longer. You think: If I’m going to feel this way, I can’t go on. That’s when people think of suicide.”

Michael Blosil may have been under the care of a doctor. Either way, his
tragic death reminds us to be aware of the signs of depression and, when we see them, take action.

Depression: True Stories
Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression

Related Issues and Answers columns
Depression: A treatable disease
Preventing suicide

Related columns for young people


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