How to Prevent Youth Suicide

Suicide among youth is a serious and complicated issue. It involves risk factors (things that increase the likelihood that a kid will commit suicide) and protective factors (things that decrease the likelihood).

The most important prevention measures are: removing weapons from the home, monitoring access to drugs and alcohol and spending time with the kids.

Risk Factors

The teen years are a time of major cognitive, emotional, social and behavioral change. These changes can bring a number of mental health challenges. These include depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts/behaviors.

Often, suicide is an outcome of intense stressors that exceed the coping capabilities of the youth. These stresses may be a result of major psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or anorexia nervosa. They can also be caused by family dissolution or other changes in the structure of a household and the disruption of friendships and social networks.

Other risks factors can include a history of substance abuse and bullying. Youth who are thinking of or planning suicide should be taken very seriously. This is especially true if they make a threat or give away items that they treasure. They may even start making arrangements. Lastly, a suicide attempt can be followed by increased involvement in self-harming behaviors, such as cutting or burning, which are sometimes referred to as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). These behavior changes are a way for youths to cope with their feelings of depression, hopelessness and pain.

Warning Signs

During adolescence, kids frequently give warning signs of mental health issues. Parents, teachers and friends are in a unique position to pick up on these signals. They should never dismiss them as teenage drama or a desire to get attention.

Symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously. It is critical that they be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional to determine what is causing the problem and what treatment options are available.

When someone is exhibiting these symptoms, it is important to keep them isolated as much as possible until they can be safely evaluated by a professional. It is also crucial to remove any potential weapons or objects that can be used in a suicide attempt. Finally, a person should be monitored closely and allowed to have alone time only when it is supervised by a trusted adult. If an attempt is made, it should be treated as a medical emergency and the teen should be taken to a hospital or crisis center right away.


There are a number of different treatment options for youth who have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. First and foremost, a mental health professional should be consulted. If the teen is reluctant to see a clinician, parents or other supportive family members should go with them, even if the teen says they feel better or won’t agree to a visit. This will help to ensure that access is maintained and that the teen will be seen when they are most in crisis.

Many psychiatric disorders such as bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia have their onset in adolescence and can be treated with medication. These conditions can increase suicide risk if they are not adequately managed.

Relationship therapy can be helpful. Many suicide attempts occur in the context of relationship problems such as breakups or the death of a close friend. Poor communication between teenagers and their parents is also a risk factor. Providing a safe, physically and emotionally stable home environment can reduce suicide risk.


Youth suicide is often preventable. Parents, teachers, peers and health care professionals all have a role to play. Youth frequently give warning signs that they are distressed and need help. Health care clinicians are in a unique position to identify and respond to these signals.

Several effective prevention strategies have been identified. They include screening programs (questionnaires and other assessment tools); reducing cognitive availability of lethal means of self-harm through restricting access to guns and lethal doses of drugs; and promoting support networks for at-risk youth, such as peer support programs.

Integrating prevention strategies into clinical settings is feasible without disrupting the workflow of health care systems or overtaxing family, friends and community resources. Educating youth about healthy relationships, internal and external healthy coping skills, and the importance of strong connection to others are also important. This can reduce the need for interventions that require more intensive clinical intervention and reduce the severity of symptoms for individual patients.