How to Reach Teenagers Struggling With Depression and Suicide

With the hormones, social pressure, and successive changes that come with adolescence and the teen years, many young adults struggle both emotionally and psychologically to deal with their quickly changing worlds. Too often, this manifests itself in depression, sometimes severe, that can also lead to suicide. In the United States, 2-8 percent of adolescents attempt suicide each year, and more teens (ages 10 through 24) die from suicide than from all natural causes combined. Therapy, counseling, and other forms of treatment are ideal in helping teens achieve solid footing. But too often, these resources are either not available (due to socioeconomic status, rural location, and other factors) or are not taken advantage of.

How to reach teenagers who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts has been the subject of two recent initiatives, one in Australia and one in the United States. In Australia, researchers looked at the efficacy of interactive online tools in fighting depression for teens with a study called Internet Self-Help for Depression. The research found that interactive websites (such as MoodGym) were more helpful than text-only, information-based websites. Interactive depression fighting websites were most effective when paired with traditional real-world therapy. In fact, the combination of psychotherapy plus interactive web work returned the highest rate of success, the study found: together, the two approaches engendered a greater reduction in depression that either approach did alone.

In the United States, a new multi-year research project will begin starting this fall to test the effectiveness of a suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. The idea behind Sources of Strength is to change two key components of teen culture: stigma against seeking help, and a perceived absence of adult support for suicidal teens. Rather than hoping to identify suicidal teens and get them into therapy before it’s too late, Sources of Strength uses peer-based prevention techniques to create a safe environment in which teens feel comfortable seeking help before it gets to that point. Peer leaders will be trained to promote, encourage, and engender healthy social norms, involve adults, and establish cultures of acceptance and support within their schools.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Della Menechella

    September 10th, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    When I was in high school (which was a long time ago), I was part of a peer connection group. We worked with other students who were struggling with drug habits, difficulties at school and home, depression, and other challenges. Our role was not to offer advice. We were there to provide emotional support to our fellow students. Of course, if we felt that there was an imminent danger, we did notify the faculty advisor.

    I have a son who is bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide. Even though he has been in private therapy for many years, I think he would have benefited from participating in a group of this type so he wouldn’t have felt so out of place in school.

  • tudor

    September 10th, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    although having peer leaders sounds like a nice innovative method,I doubt its effectiveness…because although these ‘peer leaders’ would have gone through the training,they are still adolescents themselves and will never be able to see things from an adult’s perspective…

  • Jose P.

    September 11th, 2010 at 12:38 AM

    Hey tudor,although what you are saying does make sense I believe it is better to have some kind of a support group rather than there being no support group at school at all!You see the problem the commenter above you is facing with her Son…its because there is no support group in her Son’s school!

  • Rhett

    September 11th, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Using modes of communication that teens can more readily relate to and understand has to be the ebst way in combatting the depression and subsequent anger that so many young people are feeling today. They do not respond well to the one one one interaction and face time with a therapist in the same way that I know that they would with online therapy or other methods of therapy and communication. It is like they shut down when they have to interact human to human but when it comes to screen time that is something that they can focus on and relate to hour after hour. The jusry is still out for me as to whether this is a good thing, but I guess the reality is that if we wabt to reach them and help them overcome their depression then we have to do it in a nway that we know they are going to be willing to engage in, and online right now seems to be the best answer.

  • Iris

    September 12th, 2010 at 6:20 AM

    One of the best things that you can do to prevent suicide and depression in your teen is to simply listen a lot more to what he has to say. Give them the ok that it is fine to share with you, no repercussions, and I promise you that they will be more willing to talk and engage. Having someone to relate to and get it all out is what it is all about sometimes and I think that this could make a huge difference in the life of a teenager who really needs help and support.

  • GreenEyedLilo

    September 12th, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    I was suicidal as a teenager–I dealt with depression from ages 7 to 29. I really had no idea what “normal” felt like. I dealt with a lot of bullying. I don’t know if anything could have made me feel comfortable about opening up around most peers. I had a few very good friends outside of school and that was *it*–I never socialized in school. What I’m saying is, I’m not really sure about the idea of peer counseling.

    I also had a huge reason for not opening up to adults, especially not in my own school or within my family. I was afraid that I’d be thrown into an asylum or medicated into a zombie. Susanna Kaysen’s “Girl, Interrupted” made a real impression on me as a teen. I think an important thing for teenagers would be to communicate clearly that they will not be punished for reporting their own problems, and that their friends will not automatically be locked away if they express concerns about them to adults.

    That said, I’m glad that psychological and psychiatric professionals are seeing the problem and trying different ideas. I am so grateful that I “failed” at suicide and lived into adulthood. It would be wonderful if these ideas could help today’s teens.

  • Tally

    September 23rd, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    My child was having a hard time with this. I had enrolled him into a school that was made to help children with depression and suicide.

  • struggling youth

    October 15th, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    Although having peer leaders sounds like a nice innovative method,I doubt its effectiveness. Being a responsible parent, it is always helpful for parents to educate themselves on various teen problems which help them to take better approach.

  • Eddie

    July 5th, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Peer based interactions almost killed me but also saved my life. I got involved with drugs and alcohol at an early age with ‘a little help from my friends’. Luckily I went to a sober living where I was surrounded by people my age who used to live like me but now wanted to lead better lives. I got to see people who I could identify with turn their lives around.

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