If the terrorists on your favorite adventure show threaten to detonate a bomb and kill everyone, you probably don't need to stir from your easy chair. If your sister says her new boyfriend is "to die for," she probably doesn't mean it.
If your 13-year-old says he wishes he were dead, you'd better listen."It's easy to miss the signals that an adolescent is in trouble," said Ann Rawlings, program director of Charter Canyon Hospital's child and adolescent service unit. "We live in a society where the entertainment and the language are violent. People don't take talk seriously."
Many parents choose to tell themselves "he doesn't mean it," Rawlings said. Others will start preaching.
"They'll say: `You think you have it hard. When I was your age, I had to wear overalls and walk two miles to school, barefoot in the snow.' "
Preaching will push a child away, she said. Understanding will bring families closer.
"Your child may or may not really intend to kill himself, but you can be sure he is feeling something intensely and needs help."
Young people who are depressed and considering suicide often can't see any solution to problems, Rawlings said.
"Depression is like a dark hole - black and close. You can't see any choices, and you think you are alone.
"And the parents and friends of depressed people may get frightened. They don't know how to fix the problem."
Depression should be treated like any serious medical emergency, she said. Initially, you should apply "first aid," then you should take your child to a trained professional.
"The child is feeling alone. If you show your concern, you can retard the suicidal feelings at that time."
Once youths are in a treatment program, counselors can teach them to build their self-esteem and recognize life's choices for themselves, she said. Chemical depression can be treated with prescription drugs.
"The drugs don't make you happy, they make you think better. When you are depressed, you can't think clearly."
Some warning signals for teen depression and suicide are a rapid or gradual change in behavior, more time spent sleeping, withdrawal from loved ones and activities the youth used to enjoy, loss of concentration abilities and a lowering of self-esteem, Rawlings said.
Rawlings will offer a seminar on "Growing up With Your Kids" tonight at 7 at Charter Canyon Hospital in Orem. Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Charter Canyon will offer free evaluations for "teens at risk." Specialists on learning disabilities, attention disorders, family dynamics and depression will be present. Call 225-2800 for information and appointments.
"Kids don't need to be really sick to do this," Rawlings said. "Some pulling away from the family is part of normal adolescents. The seminars might just help family members understand each other a little better."
Rawlings says the prognosis for suicidal teenagers who get help is good.
"Teenagers have so much power for health. They don't have the long histories of dysfunctional behavior some adults have, and they are not as dependent as children. With help, they can heal themselves and change their lives."