Tune in to your child to catch the signs of depression early


February 07, 1993|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A worried parent in Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote this week to ask a question that strikes fear in all of our hearts.

"We faced a tragedy in our neighborhood recently -- a young girl whom we all liked and who seemed to have everything going for her killed herself for no apparent reason," her letter began.

"Niki, I can't get this terrible event out of my mind. The thought that I might miss the signs and not know if my daughter was depressed or even suicidal terrifies me.

"I am a working parent who works long hours. How can I make sure that I'm in touch with my child enough to know if she's in terrible trouble of some kind?"

First, it's important to remember that being a working parent does not, per se, increase the risk that a child will encounter serious emotional problems of any kind.

It's true that we can't rely on casual contact with our teen-agers, especially if we work long hours, but what parent doesn't have to make a special effort to stay in touch with a normal teen-ager?

In fact, several surveys suggest that because we working parents are conscious of not having as much opportunity for chance encounters with our children, we're likely to plan and spend more actual time with them than we would if we were at home full time.

And making time can simply mean running errands together, or sitting down to watch a TV show together. In addition, it's important to be on the lookout for these six primary danger signals:

* A change in sleep patterns. Your teen may be unable to go to sleep, or begin sleeping 16 hours a day or begin to awaken too early.

* A major shift in appetite.

* Signs of self-medication, either with illegal or over-the-counter drugs. He or she may suddenly seem to be unusually lethargic or uncoordinated, or unusually tense and "hyped up," or unable to focus or speak in a clear, coherent manner.

* A sudden drop in grades. She may suddenly seem uninterested in school, or bored or "turned off" by subjects or extracurricular activities that used to interest her.

* A sudden or gradual change in self-esteem. She used to be self-confident; now she isn't. Or he used to be shy; now he's full of bravado.

* The threat of suicide in any form, even in a "kidding" or off-handed manner. Such a threat never should be taken lightly.

* Finally, your own good instincts as a parent telling you that something is wrong. Never ignore your intuition.

If your teen has exhibited any of these symptoms for longer than a week or two, don't hesitate to talk to your child. Call your family physician, school counselor, local mental health center and/or local hospital's psychiatric department, as well.

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