Youth suicide may be linked to a variety of risk factors, including mental disorders, alcohol and drug use, genetic loading and family processes. Certain groups are more at-risk. For example, research by the Trevor Project found that Black transgender teens are more likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide.
In addition, youth are dealing with important life stressors like relationship break-ups and peer rejection. Conflicts in the family are also common in these cases.
Teens who have suicidal thoughts frequently show warning signs. Parents, teachers, coaches and others who interact with youth are in a key position to pick up on these. A teen who is agitated, likening himself to a cat on a hot tin roof, or acting like he is in a catatonic state should be evaluated immediately. The agitation may be caused by substance abuse, depression or mental illness. Often, teens with depression hide their feelings from others. Teen girls, in particular, are more apt to be impulsive and tend to show less obvious signs of depression.
The teenage years are a time of major physical, emotional and psychological changes. Sometimes these changes can lead to stress, fear, hopelessness and a sense of being overmatched. Teens may become depressed or feel suicidal because of a number of risk factors, such as family history of mood disorders, a diagnosis of depression, exposure to violence and other tragic events, relationship issues or the suicide of a friend or acquaintance.
A young person who is suicidal typically needs to be hospitalized, preferably in an acute care setting. This can create the immediate safety they need while also allowing professionals to work on addressing root causes.
Youth suicide can be caused by many factors including: a family history of mental illness or substance use, impulsivity, a violent home environment, a history of being bullied, exposure to media that glorifies suicide, and a diagnosable emotional disorder (such as depression or bipolar disorder). The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funds and manages the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Resource Center and has a program called the Garrett Lee Smith Grant that supports state, territorial, tribal, and community-based prevention efforts.
Teens at risk of suicide can benefit from ongoing treatment that includes medication and therapy. They can also find help through crisis centers and hotlines that offer telephone counseling. These organizations can connect a suicidal person with trained counselors.
A youth who is threatening suicide should always be taken seriously. Threats are often a cry for help and the sooner that is recognized, the more likely it is that professional intervention will be provided and a young person will get the support they need.
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable medical conditions. Youth who are ill should be monitored and treated appropriately with a comprehensive treatment plan.
Talk to your child, listen and be a supportive role model. Encourage your teen to seek professional help for depression, and to remove weapons (about half of all suicides are committed with firearms) from the home while they are struggling.
Make sure that your teen knows that sexting is illegal and forwarding sexual images of minors is a crime. Provide education on coping skills and stress management. Help them find a balance between work, school and social life. Encourage involvement in sports, activities at school and place of worship.
There are a number of things that can help prevent youth suicide. One is family support and communication. Another is access to good mental health care. Another is good problem-solving skills and a sense of purpose and hope. A third is having strong coping strategies and the ability to use them effectively.
It is important to be alert for warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts in teens. If your child becomes sad or more withdrawn, is acting anxious, angry, moody, tired or apathetic, is sleeping less and/or eating differently, and/or exhibits changes in their appearance, it’s time to get help.
Be especially wary of a sudden excessive elevation in your teen’s mood that comes after a prolonged period of depression. This may indicate that they are finally ready to take action, and it is not safe to leave them alone with lethal weapons in the home (including firearms). Other risk factors include drug and alcohol abuse.