Many children and adolescents experience depression or suicidal thoughts. If a child makes a suicide threat, it should be taken seriously.
Researchers analyzed national data on youth suicide deaths during the pandemic and compared them with what would be expected had the pandemic not occurred. The results varied by sex, age, race and ethnicity, and method of suicide.
A number of factors increase a youth’s risk for suicide, including prior attempts. A history of psychiatric disorders, particularly mood disorders, is also associated with increased risk. So is a family history of mental illness, especially depression and anxiety. Problems with alcohol and other substances are also risk factors, as is a history of trouble in school and disciplinary problems. Being a member of the LGBT community in an environment that isn’t supportive can also pose a risk.
Kids who have strong connections to family, friends and the community are less likely to kill themselves. This has a lot to do with feeling loved and supported and having people they can turn to, but it also has to do with being less impulsive and more able to use effective problem-solving skills. Access to lethal means of self-harm is also a factor, which is why it’s important for kids to have good access to reliable and safe medical and mental health care.
A teen’s talk or gestures about suicide can be taken very seriously. Even if you think they are being dramatic, it is important to seek medical help. Suicide threats and attempts are always a dangerous and serious crisis.
Across both community adolescent and clinical youth samples, suicide threats/gestures were highly comorbid with other SITBs; 90.2% of community adolescents and 91.2% of clinical youth reported a lifetime history of one or more forms of self-injurious behavior. Furthermore, despite their high comorbidity with NSSI, suicide threats/gestures did not explain additional variance in suicide attempts when compared to other SITBs.
All school personnel must receive education about youth suicide awareness and prevention, including warning signs of a student in a mental health crisis. In addition, all schools should have protocols to remove weapons from the school if students report that they have lethal means in their homes. This includes guns, which are used in more than half of all youth suicides.
Youth with psychiatric illnesses that can cause suicide, such as schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa and major depression, have a higher risk of suicide than youth without such illness. Symptoms of these disorders can first appear during adolescence. For example, a teen with schizophrenia may hear voices telling him or her to kill himself or herself (auditory hallucinations), or a severely depressed teenager may feel that his or her family would be better off dead, a belief known as a depressive delusional belief.
If a youth seems to be at risk for suicidal behavior, caregiving adults should be alert to warning signs and seek help immediately. This can include parents, school staff, obstetrician-gynecologists, and other health professionals. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and provides other resources. It also funds community-based interventions that can be used to reduce the risk of suicide among youth. These can include counseling, crisis hotlines, and community support programs.
In many cases, youth suicides are associated with agitation or a sense of being unable to cope with life. This is sometimes a sign of underlying psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or ADD/ADHD. Treatment often helps people with these conditions calm down and reduce their risk of harming themselves or others.
Family support and close relationships, especially good communication. Friends and social networks, including peer groups that help one another. Religious or cultural beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living. Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict resolution.
It’s important to remember that teens who report suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not attention-seeking. They are trying to express a serious concern, and it is vital that their warnings are not ignored. It’s also important to maintain open lines of communication between parents and mental health professionals. These experts can help a teen and their parents develop a plan of care. TRAILS programs also focus on building connections between schools and outside mental health services, which can prevent students from being sent to emergency rooms unnecessarily.