Spiraling Down

Richmond psychologist talks about the warning signs in teen suicide.

With teen suicides increasing in Virginia, Dr. Matt Bitsko, a psychologist with Summit Emotional Health and a board member of the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation, shares some of the signs to watch for:

• Depression, hopelessness, anger, anxiety. “I think what a lot of parents don’t know is that anxiety can be a big risk factor for suicidal thinking.” 

• A change in relationships. “They’re not feeling close or connected to the same people.” 

• Downturn in grades. “If they’re all of a sudden changing or slipping in a drastic way, then that is a good piece of information to pay attention to.”

• Use of alcohol or drugs. “With substance abuse, it’s hard to know which is the chicken or the egg for the teen’s mental health challenges.”

• Too much sleep, or not enough. “Sleep is a fundamental piece of any health and well-being, let alone mental illness.” 

• Quitting activities. “If they’re withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, that is one of the hallmarks of depression.”

The Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation is named after a young Richmonder who suffered anxiety and depression and who died at the age of 16 due to sudden cardiac arrhythmia. Her legacy lives on in programs like the SpeakUp 5K—an event she planned to raise awareness for teenage mental health. Originally started in Richmond, the race is now held in five cities throughout the U.S. and draws thousands of participants each year. CKGFoundation.org

This article originally appeared in our December 2019 issue.

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