Teen Suicide: What Parents Need to Know
Teen suicide is becoming more common. Discover what causes a teen to consider taking their own life, risk for teen suicide or self-harm, suicide warning signs and how to help.
Teen Suicide Statistics
For any parent, thinking about the possibility that your teen might commit suicide is almost too much to bear. The book, "Your Child" by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, states that 10% of all teens think about suicide at one point or another and a half million teens commit suicide every year.
Teen suicide is becoming more common every year in the United States. In fact, only car accidents and homicides (murders) kill more people between the ages of 15 and 24, making suicide the third leading cause of death in teens and overall in youths ages 10 to 19 years old.
Read on to learn more about this serious issue - including what causes a teenager to consider taking their own life, what puts a teen at risk for suicide or self-harm, and warning signs that someone might be considering suicide and how they can get help to find other solutions.
Pressures of Growing Up
t's not easy growing up in today's world. There's a lot of pressure to succeed both educationally and financially. There's divorce, blended families, working parents, relocation; all of which can be very unsettling and can intensify self-doubts in a teen. And then there's just the process of growing up and trying to figure things out.
Thinking About Suicide
It's common for teens to think about death to some degree. Teens' thinking capabilities have matured in a way that allows them to think more deeply - about their existence in the world, the meaning of life, and other profound questions and ideas. Unlike kids, teens realize that death is permanent. They may begin to consider spiritual or philosophical questions such as what happens after people die. To some, death, and even suicide, may seem poetic (consider Romeo and Juliet, for example). To others, death may seem frightening or be a source of worry. For many, death is mysterious and beyond our human experience and understanding.
Thinking about suicide goes beyond normal ideas teens may have about death and life. Wishing to be dead, thinking about suicide, or feeling helpless and hopeless about how to solve life's problems are signs that a teen may be at risk - and in need of help and support. Beyond thoughts of suicide, actually making a plan or carrying out a suicide attempt is even more serious.
Warning Signs of Teen Suicide
Parents should be aware of the following signs of adolescents who may try to kill themselves:
- change in eating and sleeping habits
- withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
- violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
- drug and alcohol use
- unusual neglect of personal appearance
- marked personality change
- persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork
- frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
- loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- not tolerating praise or rewards
A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:
- complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
- give verbal hints with statements such as: I won't be a problem for you much longer, Nothing matters, It's no use, and I won't see you again
- put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
- become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
- have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)
If your child says: "I want to kill myself" or "I'm going to commit suicide," it's extremely important to take that seriously and take immediate action by calling your doctor, a mental health professional such as a child psychiatrist or psychologist, and keeping a very watchful eye on your child.
Sometimes people feel uncomfortable asking or discussing suicide with their child. Maybe you think that just bringing up the subject will result in your child commiting suicide. In general, mental health professionals agree that isn't true. In fact the opposite may be true. Asking your child whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Rather than putting thoughts in the child's head, such a question will provide assurance that somebody cares and will give the young person the chance to talk about problems.
Causes of Teen Suicide
What makes some teens begin to think about suicide - and even worse, to plan or do something with the intention of ending their own lives? One of the biggest factors is depression. Suicide attempts are usually made when a person is seriously depressed or upset. A teen who is feeling suicidal may see no other way out of problems, no other escape from emotional pain, or no other way to communicate their desperate unhappiness.
Getting Help for Suicidal Thoughts and Depression
There are many different reasons for feeling depressed and suicidal. As a parent, it's important to keep in mind that there are different depression treatments that work for depression in children and adolescents. But you must take action by talking to your teenager and have him or her evaluated by a doctor or trained mental health professional.
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, go here.
For comprehensive information on teen and adult suicide, visit our HealthyPlace.com Suicide Center.
Sources: 1. American Psychiatric Association, Teen Suicide Fact Sheet. 2. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Teen Suicide Fact Sheet, Updated May 2008.
Last Updated: 29 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD