Teenage Suicide Prevention Treatment Center

Teenage Suicide Prevention

Learn the warning signs before it is too late

​Teen Suicide Prevention - Warnings Signs & Causes of Teen Suicide

July 20, 2016

Adolescence can be a time of enormous stress and anxiety. Because it can be difficult for a teen to imagine themselves thriving in the future as an adult, they can often feel overwhelmed and even hopeless when they struggle with succeeding in school, fitting in with their peers, and overcoming challenges of mental health. Sometimes ending their life feels like the only way to make the pain go away, and this tunnel vision can prevent them from getting the help they need.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. And for every one death from suicide, there are another 25 attempts. There are also differences between girls and boys. Though girls think about suicide more often, boys experience more suicide deaths, as they tend to use more lethal methods.

Certain factors may put teens at higher risk for suicide. These can include:

  • Existing mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
  • Substance use (drugs and alcohol)
  • History of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Recent loss of a loved one
  • Physical health problems
  • Experiencing uncertainty about sexual orientation
  • Being bullied or harassed in real life or online

Many clinicians also monitor children and teens who take antidepressants to assess for suicide risk. Although the medication usually works to reduce the risk, antidepressants come with a warning that people under the age of 25 have an increased risk for suicide when they begin taking the medication or the dosage is changed. This is because a sudden lift in mood occasionally can give young people the energy to follow through with their plans for suicide.

When people consider the warning signs for suicide prevention, they often think of the symptoms of depression. Though suicidal thoughts can be a symptom of depression, a person can experience many different moods when they are suicidal. These might include feeling irritable, angry, anxious, indifferent, or ashamed. A person who is contemplating suicide also might have lots of energy one day, and then feel lethargic and defeated the next.

There are multiple signs that parents, family, and friends can look for that might help in the prevention of teen suicide. These include emotional warning signs, behavioral warning signs, and verbal warning signs.

Emotional Warning Signs
Experiencing sudden changes in mood
Feeling hopeless or defeated
Changes in personality
Feeling incredibly anxious or stressed
Increased aggression

Behavioral Warning Signs
Withdrawing from friends and family
Using drugs or alcohol
Sleeping or eating problems
Risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex or unsafe driving
Giving away possessions or writing a will
Searching the internet for suicide ideas
Hiding pills or weapons
Writing about death

There are also verbal warning signs you can look for as a young person expresses his or her suicidal thoughts, or what’s also known as suicidal ideation. There are two types of these thoughts, which are passive and active. An active thought might be something like, “I’m going to swallow a bunch of pills,” or “I want to kill myself.” A passive thought might be subtler, but it should be taken just as seriously. This might sound like, “I wouldn’t mind if a bus hit me,” or “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.” These passive statements might be a quiet call for help from a young person who’s scared to share feelings of hopelessness.

How to Prevent Teen Suicide

If a teen is actively suicidal, meaning they feel hopeless and have a plan to kill themselves, then you should get help immediately. Call 911, get them to the emergency room, or call a suicidal hotline number.

Even if you’re not sure whether they’re thinking about dying, don’t be afraid to talk to your teen about suicide. It’s a myth that introducing the topic will put the idea into their head or increase the risk. And never be afraid to use words like “die” or “suicide,” because lack of clarity can prevent them from getting the help they need. Remind them that the situation is not hopeless, and that though they feel defeated in the moment, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, it’s important to store firearms safely as well as prescription medication and alcohol.

Above all, don’t dismiss talk or signs of suicidal ideation as a teen trying to “be dramatic” or “get attention.” Even if a teen isn’t seriously considering suicide, feelings of anxiety or depression that are left untreated increases their risk. So pay attention to your child’s behavior, and promote healthy behaviors like exercising and getting adequate sleep. Don’t let them isolate from others, and consider how your doctor, community resources, school staff, and mental health professionals can play a role in your child’s wellness.

Circumstances seem like the end of the world for your teen, but they don’t have to be. What can you do today to help your son or daughter live a full and brave life?