Whatever we do, there are times when they might need a little more help…
Mental Health Treatment Tips for Teens
Most importantly, teens with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, should know what to do when these specific problems flare up (follow the links for detailed advice):
extra anxiety – learn to manage anxiety when it attacks with different exercises, like deep breathing, focusing on their five senses, thinking positively for 12 seconds, or laughing at a video they typically find funny, etc.
In general, things like keeping a journal, getting daily exercise, and talking to your friends and family members are positive coping skills that can be helpful.
Create healthy habits and avoid spending too much time online.
“We all need a little extra help sometimes. If you are feeling sad, afraid or overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust – whether it is a family member, close friend, therapist, or case manager. It is important to reach out for help if you need it.”
Hey Teens! Take Care of Your Mental Health
You can also always talk to your pediatrician or other health care provider.
It is recommended that pediatricians screen all teens for depression each and every year.
It is estimated that only about half of teens with depression get diagnosed and then, only about half of them get treated.
We should do better.
And we can, if we start routinely screening all teens for depression.
Teen Depression Screening
The idea of having pediatricians screen for depression isn’t new.
And it hasn’t always been just about screening kids for depression.
In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics began to recommend that pediatricians screen new mothers for postpartum depression using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale or a simpler 2-question screen for depression.
“The primary care pediatrician, by virtue of having a longitudinal relationship with families, has a unique opportunity to identify maternal depression and help prevent untoward developmental and mental health outcomes for the infant and family.”
AAP on Incorporating Recognition and Management of Perinatal and Postpartum Depression Into Pediatric Practice
Next, in 2014, the AAP began to recommend that adolescent depression screening begin routinely at 11 years of age. This recommendation was added to the 2015 Recommendations for Preventive Pediatric Health Care, a policy statement that was published by the AAP Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine and the Bright Futures Periodicity Schedule Workgroup.
They also continued to recommend screening for maternal depression at 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month visits.
The latest recommendation is that all “adolescent patients ages 12 years and older should be screened annually for depression (MDD or depressive disorders) with a formal self-report screening tool either on paper or electronically (universal screening).”
Other depression screening tools are also available, including the:
What would you do if you kids started talking about suicide?
Suicide is a public health issue that concerns all of us. It is one of the reasons that many pediatricians get involved in pushing for stronger gun safety laws and teach parents to store any guns that they have locked, unloaded, with the ammunition locked elsewhere.
As you will learn, “reducing access to lethal means” is one of the first things you should do if your child is talking about suicide.
Is Your Child Talking About Suicide?
Although there are many warning signs of suicide, one is that a child or teen might simply starts talking about wanting to die.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), they might also:
Talk about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
Talk about great guilt or shame
Talk about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
Talk about feeling unbearable pain, both physical or emotional
Talk about being a burden to others
Talk or think about death often
And it is important to keep in mind that instead of actually ‘talking’ about any of this with you, a parent, your child might instead talk about it with their friends, text someone, or post messages on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or inside a chat room of one of the games they play.
What to Do If Your Child Is Talking About Suicide
So what do you do if your child is talking about suicide?
Get help as soon as possible.
“Asking someone about suicide is not harmful. There is a common myth that asking someone about suicide can put the idea into their head. This is not true. Several studies examining this concern have demonstrated that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behavior does not induce or increase such thoughts and experiences. In fact, asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself,” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide.”
Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions
While getting help might start with a call to your pediatrician, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available at 1–800–273–TALK (8255). Call immediately to figure out the best way to help your child, before they have a chance to hurt themselves.
about the Lean On Me anonymous peer support via text network
about the Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, including a hotline, chat and text help service
about the Disaster Distress Helpline for “24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.” Anyone can call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
As we see more and more gun violence, including school shootings, something has to be done to protect our kids and keep them safe.
There are many types of gun violence that gun safety advocates are concerned about, including:
The problem isn’t just gang-bangers killing themselves, as some people who try to minimize the gun violence problem try to claim.
The American Pediatric Surgical Association, in an editorial about Firearms, Children, and Health Care Professionals, does a good job in pointing this out.
They state that “the risk of firearm homicide, suicide and unintentional injuries is more than 5-fold greater in the United States than 23 other high-income countries considered collectively. Firearm-related injury and death are issues for all Americans, in all communities. The risk of dying by firearm is the same for residents of the largest cities as it is for the residents of the smallest counties and holds true for adult and pediatric patients alike. This parity in risk is due to the predominance of firearm suicides and unintentional firearms deaths in the rural counties and the predominance of firearm homicides in the urban counties.”
Gun Safety Laws
Many new and proposed gun safety laws will hopefully help to reduce gun violence, including:
universal background checks and the closure of the gun show loophole
mental health restrictions for gun purchases
limitations on access to high-capacity magazines and assault-style weaponry
repealing the Dickey Amendment, which restricts the CDC from doing research on gun violence
child access prevention (CAP) laws
And we need to make mental health services more readily available to those who need them.
Surprisingly, many of these gun safety laws are supported by most members of the NRA, even if they are strongly opposed by the NRA itself.
Most gun safety advocates are pushing for stronger CAP laws as a way to decrease the number of children injured and killed by unintentional shootings.
CAP laws work to limit a child’s access to guns in and around their home.
All too often, a toddler, preschooler, or older child will find a loaded, unsecured gun under a bed, on a nightstand, or in a closet, etc., and unintentionally shoot themselves or another family member.
“The safest home for a child is a home without guns, and if there is a gun in the home, it must be stored unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked separately.”
American Academy of Pediatrics
CAP laws are not just about accidental shootings though. Kids who get access to unsecured guns also use them in suicides and school shootings.
Studies have found benefits to CAP laws, including declines in unintentional firearm death rates in children, decreases in non-fatal gun injuries, and decreases in suicide rates among teens.
Current CAP Laws
While some states have some sort of CAP law on the books already, many others don’t.
In Texas, “A person commits an offense if a child gains access to a readily dischargeable firearm (a firearm that is loaded with ammunition, whether or not a round is in the chamber) and the person with criminal negligence and failed to secure the firearm (to take steps that a reasonable person would take to prevent the access to a readily dischargeable firearm by a child, including but not limited to placing a firearm in a locked container or temporarily rendering the firearm inoperable by a trigger lock or other means) or left the firearm in a place to which the person knew or should have known the child would gain access.”
However, many other states, including Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington, Vermont, and Wyoming, don’t have any kind of laws that would prohibit allowing kids access to unsecured firearms.
Again, that is a surprise since even the NRA advises that it is a gun owner’s responsibility to “store guns so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users.” They also state that it is a basic gun safety rule to “always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.”
Some other states have weak or limited CAP laws that simply make you criminally liable if a child or teen gets access to a gun and uses it in a felony. For example, in Oklahoma, it is “unlawful for any parent or guardian to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly permit his or her child to possess any of the arms or weapons,” but only if they are “aware of a substantial risk that the child will use the weapon to commit a criminal offense or if the child has either been adjudicated a delinquent or has been convicted as an adult for any criminal offense.”
And no states have all of the features of a comprehensive CAP law, which most experts advise would:
define a minor as being under 18 years for long guns and under 21 for handguns (in some states, a minor is only those who are 13 years old and under when it comes to child access prevention laws)
require that all firearms be stored with a locking device
impose a criminal liability on people who negligently store firearms where a minor could gain access, even if the firearm is unloaded and the minor doesn’t gain access or use the firearm
impose civil liability for damages if a minor gains access to a firearm that was stored negligently and causes damage after firing it
California is getting close though and is often thought of as being a leader in gun safety laws. Their CAP law was amended in 2013 (the Firearm Safe and Responsible Access Act) to make it a misdemeanor to leave an unsecured gun where a minor could find it, even if they don’t, in addition to being a misdemeanor or felony if they find and use the gun. Gun dealers also have to post warning signs educating gun buyers about the state’s CAP law.
Still, only 27 states and the District of Columbia have child access prevention laws.
And there is currently no national CAP law.
A bill that was introduced in 2013, the Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act of 2013 would have come close by amending the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to make it “unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to sell, transfer, or deliver any firearm to any person (other than a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer) unless the transferee is provided with a secure gun storage or safety device.”
Another version of the bill that was far more broad would also “Prohibit keeping a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm and ammunition within any premises knowing or recklessly disregarding the risk that a child: (1) is capable of gaining access to it, and (2) will use the firearm to cause death or serious bodily injury.” It would also have raised the minimum ages that young people could purchase and possess handguns and long guns.
The Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act of 2013 never made it out of committee though. It’s not hard to imagine that by “by raising the age of handgun eligibility and prohibiting youth from possessing semiautomatic assault weapons,” the bill, introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas, could have prevented the latest school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Hopefully stronger gun safety laws will now be passed in more states and we will see fewer unintentional shootings and other tragedies that occur when kids find unsecured guns or buy their own, including AR-15 style guns.