EARLY YEARS: Recognizing the signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in teens is often difficult

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Suicide among children and teens is happening, even here in our hometowns.
Studies show that rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts among young people have increased significantly.
And in some cases, they more than doubled between 2008 and 2017.

Leah Okraszewski and Annie Harvey help alleviate the stigma surrounding mental health

While having a bad day isn't that unusual for children and teens, for some, the sadness goes far deeper than we can see.

"Emotional changes are very hard to pick up on. We're human, we're very good at hiding how we feel," says Leah Okraszewski.

Okraszewski is the program director at Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley.

She works to educate people about the signs of depression.
They include feelings of worthlessness, sadness, anger, frustration.
She adds that you might also notice a child or teen withdrawing from family and friends, having changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, not maintaining personal grooming habits, or having dropping grades.

Okraszewski says to also watch for things like students giving away prized possessions, talking about taking their life, or having an actual plan.
There are theories on why teen suicide is happening more often.

"Social media can be a really, great positive space. However, it can also be a very toxic, very destructive space, as well. Things like cyber bullying can absolutely contribute to a person's self image," says Okraszewski.

As always, parents wonder, what can I do to keep this from happening to my child?

Okraszewski says it's not about "fixing" your child, but listening to them.

"Being present with them, and letting them know that you're there and that you're willing to listen and provide the support that they need in a non- judgemental and caring and compassionate way."

A major fundraiser for Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley is coming up this weekend. The15th annual Walk for Mental Health is happening this Saturday, May 18th at 10 am at Smith Park in Roanoke.