Posted by: Concerned Parent | 2009-01-15

Is teenage son depressed / suicidal?

My sister in law told me yesterday that her son expressed concerns about the mental health of my 16 year old son.

Whilst visiting them last week my son stated that he has still not recovered from the death of his father (died 2002) and that he wished he wasn' t so alone. Apparently he would stare into space for times on end and then all of a sudden participate in conversation/activities again.

As I understand they have also been playing a ps3/computer game which has the option to choose whether you want to live or die (couldn' t get much information on this game from my sister in law) and my son always chose to die.

Up until now I have been under the impression that my son and I have a healthy relationship and understood each other well. At home I have not picked up any symptoms that point towards depression or him being suicidal.

He did suffer a big disappointment in May 2008 when a fracture on his spine was diagnosed, resulting in him having to give up playing rugby. He has still not fully accepted this and from time to time it causes an argument because he feels that it is worth the risk. He refuses to acknowledge that playing rugby will result in permanent damage and may leave him paralyzed. His grades declined by about 14% but I thought this was due to the fact that other than previous grades, grade 10 results depended more on exams than on assignments.

I' m constantly motivating and supporting him but it now seems as if it might not have been enough.

Even last night, after having the conversation with my sister in law yesterday, I could still not detect anything that points to him being depressed. We had a normal discussion about his first day back at school and also discussed his upcoming 17th birthday and started making plans for the celebration thereof.

Please advice how I should handle this situation. On the one hand I' m afraid of over reacting and on the other hand I' m scared that I might not be taking it seriously enough.

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Our expert says:
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I fully understand your concerns, and your worry about wanting neither to over-react nor under-react. Suicidal thoughts in anyone must be taken seriously, maybe more so in people like teens who are more likely to act on it.
Could you start a calm conversation with him about how hard YOU find it to get over the death of his father, and tactfully ask how he finds it is still affecting him. YOu could also talk about how you worry about his disappointment about having had to give up rugby, and wish you could make it safe for him to do, but you so much want to avoid him suffering any more pain and disappointment, such as would be likely if he began to play again. Chat about how he is handling this --- is he finding anything else he enjoys, which could partly replace the missing rugby ?
I must applaud your nephew for his sensitivity and good sense in noticing these behaviours and for communicating his concerns through his parents, to you.

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