Dr. Wallace:

I’m 15 and so is my best friend. She used to be a very happy-go-lucky person, full of energy and loads of fun to be around. Now she always seems sad and depressed. It’s almost like she is a totally different person.

In the past three months, her parents were divorced and her boyfriend broke up with her. Some days she will hardly talk to me. She misses a lot of school lately and I know her grades have dropped. When I talk to her about this, she either says that she doesn’t care that her grades are slipping or that she just doesn’t want to talk about it.

I have two questions. First, please tell me the warning signs for potential suicide victims. Next, do you think I should tell her school counselor about the odd behavior of my friend?

— Nameless,

Providence, R.I.

Nameless: I’ll answer your second question first. Yes, tell your friend’s counselor immediately! Counselors are prepared to get help for teens who are depressed.

Now to answer your first question: Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 to 24. Also, the suicide rate for teenagers has tripled over the past 30 years.

How can you tell if a teen is thinking about ending his or her life? The warning signs, according to Dr. James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, include: noticeable change in eating and sleeping habits; withdrawal from friends and family and from regular activities; persistent boredom; decline in the quality of schoolwork; violent or rebellious behavior; running away; drug and alcohol abuse; unusual neglect of personal appearance; difficulty concentrating; radical personality change, complaints of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches and fatigue.

Comments such as, “I won’t be a problem much longer,” or “It’s no use,” may be verbal signs of suicidal thoughts. A teen who goes about putting his or her life in order, throwing or giving away favorite possessions or cleaning his or her room, it this is uncommon, may be considering suicide. A sudden forced cheerfulness after a period of depression is another danger sign.

Research indicates that young people who attempt suicide are more responsive to suggestion than adults are. The presence of examples or models also seems to be a factor. Thus, adolescents from families or in schools or groups in which suicide has occurred are more at risk.

Teen suicide often occurs after a loss, such as the death of a loved one, breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or parental divorce. When such conditions exist, it is particularly important that adults be alert to the warning signs.

Dr. Wallace: If a girl asks a boy on a date, who should pay the expenses? My dad says the girl should pay and my mom said that if the guy was a true gentleman, he would pay. What do you say?

— Laura,

Michigan City, Ind.

Laura: The person who does the inviting should be the one who picks up the tab. It’s not debatable!

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