The term “emo” may have started in the music industry as an insult by punkers in the 1980s to describe the followers of emotive hardcore rock music. However, the term has been bastardized to mean “emotional” and has been used to refer to male vocalists who sing like little girls about their failed relationships and to kids who cut their hair into side-swept bangs, tight pants, and complain about how nobody understands them.
Emo turned into sort of a pop culture among the youth who rampantly express depressing words such as “autumn,” “heart,” “knife,” “bleeding,” “leaves,” and “razorblade” through music, visual arts and the Internet. Emos hate themselves; emos want to kill themselves.
The emo pop culture may influence the occurrence of a growing number of depression and suicide in teens. And if this is the case, it is alarming to mental health practitioners.
Depression and Suicide
Depression and suicide are serious, inter-related public health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 154 million people worldwide are suffering from depression every year. By 2020, depression will be the most important single cause of disability in both the developed and developing world.
On the other hand, the WHO reported in 2008 that 1 million people die each year by suicide or that is equivalent to 3,000 deaths daily. For every person who completes suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. The WHO also said that 60 percent of suicides in the world occur in Asia.
The Philippines National Health Statistics (2004) recorded the vulnerable age group for suicide as those belonging to 20-24 years old with a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 population. Data also showed many cases occurring at the young age of 10-14 years old (0.3 per 100,000) and the 15-19 years old (3 per 100,000).
The majority of persons with depression and other mental disorders related to suicide do not receive treatment. In some instances appropriate modes of treatment are unavailable and/or primary care physicians and other professionals are not equipped to provide care. In other cases, a lack of public understanding of depression and suicide or the stigma associated with psychological problems prevents individuals from seeking appropriate care.
Childhood and adolescence serve as critical periods in human development. It is during this stage that the sense of self, as well as the identity, is established. Unfortunately, teens are more vulnerable to depression. Hormones and sleep cycles, which both change dramatically in adolescence, can affect mood. It is also during this period, issues such as peer pressure and academic expectations can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens. For some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings — they’re a sign of depression.
The Mayo Clinic website describes teen depression as a serious condition that affects emotions, thought and behaviors. Also called major depression and major depressive disorder, teen depression is not a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower. Teen depression is not medically different from depression in adults and this condition can have serious consequences.
It is not known exactly what causes depression. As with many mental illnesses, it appears a variety of factors may be involved, which include:
• Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical differences in their brains from people who are not depressed.
• Neurotransmitters. These naturally occurring brain chemicals linked to mood are thought to play a direct role in depression.
• Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.
• Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose biological family members also have the condition.
• Life events. Events such as the death or loss of a loved one, parental separation or divorce, financial problems, and high stress can trigger depression in some people.
• Early childhood trauma. Traumatic events during childhood, such as having been a victim or a witness of physical or sexual abuse or having strict parents that are quick to blame or punish, may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
• Learned patterns of negative thinking. Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless — rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.
Other factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering teen depression include: having a chronic medical illness such as diabetes or asthma; abusing alcohol, nicotine or other drugs; being attracted to members of the same sex, which can cause depression linked to negative social pressures and internal emotional conflicts; and obesity, which can lead to judgment by others and to low self-esteem.
Each individual is different and not everyone who is experiencing depression will show the same signs or symptoms of depression. The symptoms of depression may include feelings of sadness that go on for a period of time; loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities; irritability, frustration or feelings of anger even over small matters; and agitation or restlessness like pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still.
Depression may cause either insomnia or excessive sleeping; either decrease in appetite and weight loss or increased cravings and weight gain. There may also be unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches. Crying spells may be frequent even for no apparent reason. In boys, disruptive behavioral problems may occur while in girls, a lot of anxiety, preoccupation with body image and concerns about performance happen.
A depressed person may have slowed thinking, speaking or body movements; fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy, and even small tasks may seem to require a lot of effort; and feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixation on past failures or self-blame when things are not going right; trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.Then, there are frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide.
Depression may lead to suicide.
No suicide attempt should be dismissed or treated lightly! A suicide attempt is a clear indication that something is gravely wrong in a person’s life. Aside from depression, there are warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. Any one of these signs does not necessarily mean the person is considering suicide, but several of these symptoms may signal a need for help:
• Verbal suicide threats such as, “You’d be better off without me” or “Maybe I won’t be around;”• Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness• Previous suicide attempts• Daring or risk-taking behavior• Personality changes• Giving away prized possessions• Lack of interest in future plans
Eight out of 10 people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions. People who talk about suicide, threaten suicide, or call suicide crisis centers are 30 times more likely than average to kill themselves. Moreover, girls attempt suicide more often than boys, but boys are about four times more likely to succeed when they try to kill themselves because they tend to use more deadly methods like guns or hanging.
Depression is Manageable, Suicide is Preventable
In the Philippines and in most parts of the world, suicide and depression are often misunderstood and the severe social stigma attached to them prevents people from getting help.
The good news is depression is manageable and suicide is preventable. Numerous treatments are available. Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are very effective for most teens with depression.
In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications that relieve depression symptoms. However, many teens need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions — a psychiatrist or psychologist. Some teens with depression also benefit from seeing other mental health counselors.
If a teen has severe depression or is in danger of hurting himself or herself, he or she may need a hospital stay or may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until symptoms improve.
There is no sure way to prevent depression, but making sure teens take steps to control stress, to increase resilience and to boost low self-esteem can help. Friendship and social support, especially in times of crisis, can help teens cope. In addition, treatment at the earliest sign of a problem can help prevent depression from worsening.
Live well, stay happy!