Depression is a common mental illness that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, including sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24 and is often associated with depression. The warning signs and symptoms of depression and suicide are remarkably similar – likely because the leading mental health condition related to suicide is depression. In fact, 90-98% of all youth suicides involve a mental illness, the most common being depression.
Suicide is preventable. Preventing it requires individuals, families, and communities to know the warning signs and promote prevention and resilience. At Erika’s Lighthouse, we take the upstream approach that depression education is suicide prevention. Depression is far more prevalent than suicide; it continues to be the most common mental health disorder among teens, and the rates are rising. Between 15-20% of young people will experience a depressive episode before the age of 20 — think about that, that’s basically 5 kids out of a class of 25.
Many young people struggle with depression, and while suicide is actually rare when it happens, it is tragic and affects more than the family. If a child in your school community is lost to suicide it is a tragedy. Surrounding that suicide, 13% of your school population is struggling with depression. 31% of students have reported symptoms of depression, 70% believe anxiety and depression are SERIOUS problems and finally over 95% of students believe anxiety and depression are problems among their peers. Not all depressed kids are going to attempt suicide. But, by being aware and talking about depression, we’re focusing on identifying struggling adolescents before they get to the point of taking their life.
Schools can benefit from a broader discussion on mental health, such as depression because of it:
- Is relevant to the entire population of students.
- Addresses many of the issues that impact a student’s ability to learn and perform on any given day – attendance, achievement, behaviors, and others.
- Reduces stigma and builds a climate of good mental health within a school.
- Promotes early identification, intervention, and help-seeking among teens.
- Supports all students, not just those with suicidal ideations.
- Allows impactful, meaningful conversations among all students to help them understand their peers.
Classroom Programs offer one piece of a larger school mental health and suicide prevention model. When schools are educating all students in tier 1 universal programming, not just those who have depression, there is a chance for some students to say, “Wait a minute, I didn’t know that that was depression. I just thought this is what teenage years were supposed to feel like.” Teaching about depression allows all students the opportunity to learn about the signs and symptoms, offers them the opportunity to request help, and teaches them important help-seeking skills. It not only helps students struggling with mental health challenges self-identify, but also those experiencing suicidal ideation come forward more freely and ask for the help that they deserve.