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Risk Factors for Child and Teen Suicide

What are the Risk Factors for Suicide by Children and Teens?

  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • Close family member who has committed suicide.
  • Past psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Recent losses: This may include the death of a relative, a family divorce, or a breakup with a girlfriend.
  • Social isolation: The individual does not have social alternatives or skills to find alternatives to suicide.
  • Drug abuse or alcohol abuse: Drugs decrease impulse control making impulsive suicide more likely. Additionally, some individuals try to self-medicate their depression with drugs or alcohol.
  • Exposure to violence in the home or the social environment: The individual sees violent behavior as a viable solution to life problems.
  • Handguns in the home, especially if loaded.

Some research suggests that there are two general types of suicidal youth. The first group is chronically or severely depressed or has Anorexia Nervosa. Their suicidal behavior is often planned and thought out. The second type is the individual who shows impulsive suicidal behavior. He or she often has behavior consistent with conduct disorder and may or may not be severely depressed. This second type of individual often also engages in impulsive aggression directed toward others.

Warning Signs for Suicide

  • Risk factors, warning signs for suicide, signs of depression and bipolar disorder in teens, what to do if your child or friend shows suicidal behaviorSuicidal talk
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Signs of depression
  • Behavioral changes
  • Giving away special possessions and making arrangements to take care of unfinished business
  • Difficulty with appetite and sleep
  • Taking excessive risks
  • Increased drug use
  • Loss of interest in usual activities

Signs of Depression in Teens

  • Sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Declining school performance
  • Loss of pleasure/interest in social and sports activities
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in weight or appetite

Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Teens

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Excessive talkativeness, rapid speech, racing thoughts
  • Frequent mood changes (both up and down) and/or irritability
  • Risky behavior
  • Exaggerated ideas of ability and importance

Take Action to Prevent Suicide

Three steps parents can take

  1. Get your child help (medical or mental health professional)
  2. Support your child (listen, avoid undue criticism, remain connected)
  3. Become informed (library, local support group, Internet)

Three steps teens can take

  1. Take your friend's actions seriously
  2. Encourage your friend to seek professional help, accompany if necessary
  3. Talk to an adult you trust. Don't be alone in helping your friend.

Adolescents often will try to support a suicidal friend by themselves. They may feel bound to secrecy, or feel that adults are not to be trusted. This may delay needed treatment. If the student does commit suicide, the friends will feel a tremendous burden of guilt and failure. It is important to make students understand that one must report suicidal statements to a responsible adult. Ideally, a teenage friend should listen to the suicidal youth in an empathic way, but then insist on getting the youth immediate adult help.

The National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Or for a crisis center in your area, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

next: Stress in Children: What It Is, How Parents Can Help
~ depression library articles
~ all articles on depression

Last Updated: 23 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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