Warning Signs of Teen Suicide - What to Look For
Many times, there are warning signs that someone is seriously depressed and may be thinking about or planning a suicide attempt. Here are some of them:
- pulling away from friends or family and losing desire to go out
- trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- changes in eating or sleeping habits
- major changes in appearance (for example, if a normally neat person looks very sloppy - as if they're not taking the usual care of themselves )
- talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
- talk about suicide
- talk about death
- talk about "going away"
- self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or driving too fast, for example)
- no desire to take part in favorite things or activities
- the giving away of favorite possessions (like offering to give away a favorite piece of jewelry, for example)
- suddenly very happy and cheerful moods after being depressed or sad for a long time (this may mean that a person has decided to attempt suicide and feels relieved to have found a "solution")
Don't Blow Off the Warning Signs of Suicide
Paying attention to and responding to these clues can sometimes save a life and prevent a tragedy. Most of the time, teens who are considering suicide are willing to discuss it if someone asks them out of concern and care. Some people (teens and adults) are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves for fear that, by asking, they may plant the idea of suicide. This is a myth. It is always a good thing to ask and to initiate the conversation with someone you think may be considering suicide.
First, it allows you to get help for the person. Second, just talking about it may help the person to feel less alone, less isolated, more cared about and understood - the opposite of many feelings that may have led to suicidal thinking to begin with. Third, it may give the person an opportunity to consider that there may be another solution.
Sometimes, a specific event, stress, or crisis can trigger suicidal behavior in someone who's at risk. Common triggers are a parent's divorce, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the death of a friend or relative, for example. It's always good to ask a friend who's going through a crisis how they're doing, if they're getting any support, how they're coping, and if they need some more support. There are plenty of adults who can help you or a friend find the support you need. Everyone deserves that support.
Sometimes, teens who make a suicide attempt - or who die as a result of suicide - seem to give no clue beforehand. This can leave loved ones feeling not only grief stricken but guilty and wondering if they missed something. It is important for family members and friends of those who die by suicide to know that sometimes there is no warning and they should not blame themselves.
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.
Last Updated: 23 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD