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When Depression Kills

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A depressed teen gunman kills eight people, then self, in Omaha mall shooting.

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When we heard about the mall shooting in Nebraska yesterday, we were deeply upset. And now that we're hearing more details about the teenage shooter, we're even more disturbed. According to the Associated Press, the 19-year-old shooter, Robert Hawkins, suffered from depression. Debora Maruca Kovac, Hawkins' landlord, told the Associated Press, "He was depressed, and he had always been depressed." She said she and her husband let Hawkins stay with them after he left or was kicked out of his family's house. Court records show that at least once he was termed a ward of the state, which legally removed him from his parents' custody. Maruca Kovac told the AP that Hawkins was not on any medication for mental illness, but he had been treated in the past for depression.

This especially alarmed the Moms of teenagers in the office. How can we tell the difference between normal teenage moodiness and genuine clinical depression? What are the signs we should look for? We called Dr. Miriam Kaufman, the mother of two teenagers and the author of Overcoming Teen Depression, for guidance.

Dr. Kaufman says the signs of teen depression can be particularly confusing for parents, because depressed teens can display opposite symptoms. For instance, both increased and decreased appetite are signs of depression, as are not sleeping enough and sleeping too much. "Some depressed teens display signs of psychomotor retardation, and appear as if they're moving through molasses, while other kids seem jumpy and agitated," Dr. Kaufman continues. "Some depressed teens cry all the time, while many never cry at all."

Other signs of teen depression include:
• Lack of attention to personal hygiene
• A change in social behavior, such as not hanging out with friends as much (if at all)
• Decreasing grades at school
• Poor concentration
• Talking about death or suicide

"Parents should be on the lookout for a real constellation of these symptoms—a lot of things going on at once—that's lasted for a while," Dr. Kaufman advises (at least a few weeks).

If you notice your teenager slams doors and seems very upset around you, but then hear him laughing and being his usual self with his friends on the phone, he's probably okay, Dr. Kaufman says. "What you're looking for is overall behavorial changes at home, at school, and with friends, across the board" she adds.

If you suspect your teen is depressed, Dr. Kaufman says it's important to see your child's pediatrician or primary care physician. "A lot of other things could be causing the symptoms—such as hyperthyroidism and substance abuse—so you don't want to take him straight to a psychiatrist without looking at the whole picture and ruling those things out first," she concludes. If your child is suffering from depression, your primary care doctor will likely refer him to a psychologist, family counselor, or psychiatrist to provide the help he needs.

Our hearts go out to all those affected by this horrific tragedy. We hope that this will serve as a wake-up call to other mothers whose kids are battling depression. Cases like these are a terrifying reminder that depression kills.



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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous December 6, 2007, 4:43 PM

I am really scared about this. My son has been acting depressed, locking himself in his room. I am going to be looking for more of the signs. thank you.

Nee December 6, 2007, 4:54 PM

Oh, puh-leeez! Depression isn’t anything new to teenagers but why is it that EVERY single one of these people (kids or not) that take a gun and open fire in a restaurant, school, place of work, wherever, have ALWAYS already been under the care of a psychiatrist and/or hospitalized and on DRUGS?

I don’t believe it’s “depression,” I think it’s the drugs.

lizgriffith0 December 6, 2007, 8:03 PM

EVERY single one of them haven’t … but if you think the depression and the drugs are unrelated … you might not be thinking it through completely.

Ladyblue December 6, 2007, 10:42 PM

Liz and Nee, you may be right. These are powerful, mind-altering drugs, that are handed out like candy. Until we start taking depression seriously, I’m afraid this won’t be the last shooting we see.

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