Teen Suicide Warning Signs: What Parents Should Look For
Teen suicide warning signs are important for all parents to know so that in the event that a teen shows behavioral or emotional changes, a parent can evaluate any risk of self-harm and possibly prevent a tragedy. If suicide signs are present in a teen, a parent should know that it isn't the parent's fault. The teen may have underlying issues, such as a mental illness, that could be driving suicidal thoughts and actions. The most important thing is how a parent responds to the presence of the signs of suicide in a teen. If a teen does show suicide warning signs, they should always be taken seriously and evaluated by a professional.
Warning Signs of Teen Suicide
According to You Matter, a website dedicated to youth suicide prevention created by The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the following are possible signs of teen suicide:
- Talking about one's suicide or wanting to die
- Seeking out ways to kill oneself, such as gaining access to poison or a firearm
- Talking about feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or having no reason to live
- Talking about being in unbearable pain or feeling trapped
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of drugs or alcohol
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Taking unusual risks or acting recklessly
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Withdrawing or talking about feeling isolated
- Show rage or seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Additional Signs of Teen Suicide
According to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), there are specific risk factors for teen suicide as well as factors that protect against suicide.
One specific risk factor for teen suicide is exposure to another's suicide. When one person dies by suicide, those around that person, are more like to attempt/commit suicide themselves. This is known as suicide contagion. Parents should be aware that any teen who has been exposed to a death by suicide has this increased risk.
Other signs of teen suicide, according to the AAS, include:
- Mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Firearms in the household
- Previous suicide attempts
- Non-suicidal self-injury (self-harm)
- Low self-esteem
Daniel Hoover, PhD, a psychologist with the Adolescent Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic adds that extreme distress over the breakup of a relationship, or conflict with friends, may also be a warning sign of suicide.
Factors that may protect against teen suicide include:
- Family and school connectedness
- A safe school environment
- Reduced access to firearms
- Academic achievement
- Healthy self-esteem
What To Do If You See the Warning Signs of Teen Suicide
Signs of suicide in teens should never go unaddressed or brushed off as "just teen behavior." In fact, according to a 2011 survey, in the previous 12 months, 7.8% of high school students made a suicide attempt. Suicide doesn't just affect a certain kind of person – it can affect anyone.
If you do see signs of suicide in your teen, says Dr. Hoover, ask directly if he or she is considering suicide and whether he or she has made a specific plan and has done anything to carry it out. Then get professional help immediately. Take the teen to a doctor, psychologist, therapist or community mental health center for a formal mental health assessment. You can also take the teen to an emergency room (or call 9-1-1) if they are an immediate danger to his/herself or others. In addition, you can call a helpline like The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for more help on what to do next.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is staffed by professionals who are available to speak with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Last Updated: 17 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD