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Understanding the Seriousness of Teen Depression and Mental Illness
By Carol LeBeau
5/2/2012 2:22:13 PM

When I need a little emotional pick-me-up, a visit with my dear friend, Connie Kennemer always gets me back on track.  Connie’ sunny disposition, encouraging spirit and dry sense of humor can lift my spirits like no one else.

But don’t let Connie’s sweet smile fool you.  Look deeply into her eyes and you’ll get a glimpse of the pain she so courageously conceals.

I met Connie several years ago on beautiful Sunday morning at a fundraising walk in Balboa Park.  We were there to raise money and awareness for an organization called Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL). Standing on the corner of 6th and Laurel, Connie and I chatted while waiting for the event to begin.

Like many of us walking that weekend, Connie had survived the loss of a loved one to suicide.  In 2005, a week before Thanksgiving, Connie and her husband Rex got a phone call informing them their son, Todd, had taken his own life at the age of 25.

Todd, their only child, had been diagnosed years earlier with bi-polar disorder. They knew their son suffered bouts of depression but, says Connie, “We had no idea Todd was at high risk for suicide.”

Connie and Rex have spent the last seven years turning their grief into an opportunity to help others learn more about the dangers of untreated depression.  Todd’s tragic death became the springboard for a grassroots organization called Community Alliance for Healthy Minds (CAHM).

Based in Rancho Bernardo, CAHM focuses primarily on mental illness in young people – partnering with scores of other organizations and resources to “change the landscape of mental health in our communities.”

Fact is, the rate of suicide among teens and young people is skyrocketing.  May is Mental Illness Awareness month and I urge you to join Rex, Connie and all those involved in our local mental health organizations to learn more about teen depression.

Parents – teenage depression isn’t just bad moods and occasional melancholy.  Depression is a serious problem that affects every aspect of a teen’s life…and it manifests differently in young people than in adults.

The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:

  • Irritable or Angry Mood - Irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens.  A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated or prone to angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained Aches and Pains - Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches and stomachaches.  If a thorough physical exam doesn’t reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
  • Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism - Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.  This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
  • Withdrawing from Some, but Not All People - While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships.  However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents or start hanging out with a different crowd.

If you know a teenager or young person dealing with the symptoms of depression…get informed and be ready to help.  There are so many resources locally including CAHM cahmsd.org.  I also recommend a wonderful online resource.

Reach out…before it’s too late.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.