Do you have a teen child, family member, friend, or student? If they were thinking about suicide, would you know the warning signs? If so, what would you do?
The Tough Teen Years
Adolescence is like a rocky boat in a storm. It is a time of hope and expectations. It is also a time of extreme letdowns and mood swings. It is normal for teens to feel stress, confusion, and doubts about themselves. It is enough to for them to deal with the normal body and emotion changes. But teens may also face:
- Pressure at school
- The desire to be accepted by peers, to be attractive, and to date
- Problems at home—such as divorce, a single parent, abuse, or violence
- Body image problems, which may lead to eating disorders
- Peer pressure or bullying
- Violence outside the home, alcohol, and drugs
- Confusion and shame about their sexuality
Teens may have thoughts about suicide from time-to-time. Those thoughts usually go away. They often happen when the teen is struggling. But most teens do not show signs of suicide or make a suicide attempt. However, sometimes the pressure is too much. The teen feels overwhelmed and helpless. This can lead to serious thoughts of suicide.
How do you know when a teen needs help?
Look at the Risks
Teen suicide is often due to a few different things. Sometimes the risk runs in families. Or the teen may have mental health problems or not fit into a certain culture. Family problems also play a role. Then they may have a major life event, like the loss of a valued relationship. That may be enough to make the teen think seriously about suicide.
Things that put a teen at risk for suicide are:
- A prior suicide attempt
- Mental health problems such as:
- Abusing drugs
- Having a disruptive and non-supportive family
- Relationship problems with an important person
- Bullying by peers
- Poor coping skills
- Taking antidepressants—especially when just starting them
- Concerns about sexual orientation—especially if the teen is rejected or bullied because of it
- A family member committed suicide
Other things that raise the risk are:
- Recent death of a loved one
- A long term physical illness
- Loss in early life
- School failure
- Anniversary of a past loss or major life event
- Being a perfectionist and high achiever
Be Aware of the Warning Signs
Teen behavior is often a mystery. It is hard to know what is a problem and what is normal. Be alert for signs that the teen may be at risk for suicide, such as:
- Talking about death or dying
- Eating more or less than usual
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Withdrawing from people they care about
- Abusing alcohol and drugs
- Becoming violent, unruly, or running away from home
- Getting arrested or having other problems with the law
- Not washing, bathing, or caring about how they look
- Feeling very bored, having problems focusing, and doing poorly in school
- Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Having a lot of health symptoms without physical cause—such as headaches, belly pain, or tiredness
A teen who is planning to commit suicide may:
- Talk about being a bad person—or feel worthless.
- Say things like “I won’t be a problem much longer,” “You’ll never see me again,” or “There’s no use”.
- Note: If a teen makes comments about suicide, always take these threats seriously.
- Give away things he owns and values.
- Have symptoms of psychosis—such as seeing or hearing things that are not real.
Pay attention to the teen's behaviors. Take all suicide threats or attempts seriously. Do this even if you think the teen just wants attention. At the least, the teen is not coping well and needs help.
If a teen is struggling, get professional help right away. Ongoing family support is very important too. Suicides can happen quickly. Do not wait.
To get help, call:
- A mental health therapist who works with teens
- A doctor—or take the teen to the emergency room
- A crisis hotline, such as 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Also take steps to keep your teen safe at home. For example, remove guns, knives, medicines, and poisons from the area.
Build Teen Support
You may be a parent or someone who has a teen in your life. You can help prevent suicide by building a good relationship. Here are some steps:
- Provide a stable environment. Teens need physical and emotional safety.
- Spend regular quality time and have fun together.
- Listen and try to understand what the teen is saying and feeling. Do not interrupt or try to solve problems.
- Show support and respect. Allow the teen to share thoughts in a safe environment.
- Encourage the teen to express feelings, both positive and negative. Help them do this in a healthy way. Be a good example.
You can help teens get through this tough time in their lives. Know the risks and warning signs of suicide. Give them the support they need. Show your care and concern. It will help teens cope better with life's struggles.
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
About teen suicide. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/suicide.html. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Child and adolescent suicide. Mental Health America website. Available at: https://mhanational.org/child-and-adolescent-suicide. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/depression-in-children-and-adolescents. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Suicide. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/suicide.html. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Support after suicide. Crisis Clinic website. Available at: https://www.crisisconnections.org/support-after-suicide/. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Teen suicide. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Teen-Suicide-010.aspx. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 6/30/2021