How to Prevent Youth Suicide

youth suicide

The teenage years are a time of significant physical, mental and emotional change. But some young people have higher risk for suicide than others.

Kids who feel connected to family, friends and community have lower suicide risks. Good problem-solving skills and access to good health care also help. And limiting their access to lethal means is critical.

Mental Health Issues

Psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression have been linked to youth suicide. A teen with these issues needs to be diagnosed, evaluated and treated.

Major psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anorexia nervosa usually first manifest themselves during adolescence. These conditions can lead to serious complications such as hallucinations and delusions which increase the risk of suicide.

Important life events such as relationship break ups, divorce, adolescent pregnancy, death of friends and peer rejection can have a major impact on the emotional well being of teenagers. It is essential to have good communication with the teenager and be available to support them. All suicide attempts should be taken seriously. It is not a cry for attention but a warning sign that the teenager can’t cope with their feelings.


Alcohol and drugs can be a major factor in youth suicide. Youths who cannot cope with their problems seek temporary relief from drugs and alcohol, but often become addicted to these substances.

When a teenager is addicted to drugs and alcohol, they can not only suffer from depression, but may have physical health problems as well. They may also have trouble fulfilling their family, school and work responsibilities.

A recent study showed that adolescent smoking and drinking is strongly associated with suicidal ideation and attempts. Even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, the onset of depression and co-existing psychiatric disorders, smoking and drinking remains a significant risk factor for suicide. If you notice that your teen is thinking about suicide, it is important to get them into counseling as soon as possible.

Family Issues

Having close family support and positive peer relationships can help youths resist the temptation to act out their feelings in dangerous ways. However, if these relationships are abusive and/or emotionally destructive or if a young person is living in a situation with limited access to effective medical and mental health resources, suicide risks increase.

Families need to take all warning signs of suicide seriously and seek help as soon as they can, even if their teen doesn’t want to go to a mental health professional. In fact, it’s best to attend a session yourself, so that the therapist knows that the teen has agreed to go to a specialist. Keeping weapons out of the home is also essential. This can lower the risk of suicide attempts by making it less likely that a weapon will be used to end one’s life.

Social Issues

Many teens experience major mental or behavioural issues due to a range of social factors. These include family breakdown, loss or break up of friendships, bullying, and rejection from peers.

Adolescents may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from their pain and distress, but these substances can cause long-term ill health. They may also develop a dependency on the substance, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.

Research has shown that low levels of social support can significantly increase the risk of suicide in adolescent boys and girls. This supports the need to move beyond a clinical-psychiatric approach that fails to consider the impact of unjust circumstances on suicidal behaviour. Social injustice can also contribute to feelings of hopelessness, making it difficult to seek help.


A positive home environment is crucial to a youth’s mental health. This means that teens should be encouraged to have open communication with their parents and should feel secure physically and emotionally in their homes.

Adolescence is a time of intense cognitive, emotional and social development. It can also be a stressful time, as the youth struggles with rapid physical growth; conflicts between parental and peer values; sex changes; emotional intimacy with the opposite sex; and career uncertainty.

Research has shown that genetic and environmental factors can increase a youth’s suicidal risk. Genetic factors such as the low-expressing 5-HTTLPR genotype have been found to interact with early life events such as childhood trauma. This interaction can result in a greater increase in suicide attempt risk over and above the normal risk associated with the early life event.