How to Prevent Youth Suicide

During the teen years, children and adolescents often have intense emotions. If these feelings are not dealt with appropriately, they may turn into destructive behaviors, including suicide.

Teens with strong support networks and healthy coping skills are less likely to commit suicide. They can also benefit from programs designed to prevent suicide, such as those in schools.

Lack of parental interest

Children and adolescents need support from family, friends and peers. They can also receive support from teachers and school administrators, coaches or extracurricular activity leaders, community mental health services providers, and spiritual and religious communities. These individuals can help prevent youth suicide by identifying warning signs, including social withdrawal, changes in behavior, and expressions of hopelessness.

Psychologists are working to better understand how to assess suicide risk in diverse groups of youth, such as LGBTQ+ and minority adolescents. Additionally, they are examining how a national atmosphere of trauma and discrimination affects youth’s suicidal thoughts and actions.

Research suggests that life stressors, including the effects of childhood abuse and neglect, can increase a person’s likelihood of depression or suicide. Adolescents may also have a higher chance of committing suicide if they are raised by an abusive or addicted parent, have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders or schizophrenia, or experience a break from reality with hallucinations.


Adolescence is a time of significant emotional, mental and physical change. This can increase the risk of suicide for many teens. Depression is often a contributing factor. Warning signs include talking about or threatening suicide; displaying a desire to end their life or a heightened awareness of meaninglessness; taking risks, including giving away treasured items, changing eating and sleeping patterns; withdrawing from friends or family; and a heightened sense of hopelessness.

It’s important to take any threats of suicide seriously, even if the talk is vague or non-specific. Youths who make threats are at a greater risk of actually killing themselves. A large percentage of teen suicides involve the use of substances or firearms. Many depressed youths turn to alcohol and drugs for relief, but these substances can lower their inhibitions leading to dangerous behavior. Psychiatric illness can be treated with mood elevating medications and psychotherapy. A combination of these treatments can help prevent depression and reduce the potential for suicide.

Psychiatric illness

Many people believe that the majority of youth suicides are caused by severe depression and drug abuse. They also assume that these young people are impulsive, uncontrolled and have a history of troubled family life. However, this image does not fit all the circumstances that lead to youth suicide.

For example, some youths may kill themselves when they suffer a loss that makes them feel overwhelmed and hopeless. They may also be influenced by the suicide of someone close to them, a phenomenon known as suicide contagion.

Other risk factors include the use of drugs, alcohol and a lack of social support. In addition, a psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia can increase the chance of suicide by causing hallucinations or delusions. This is why it is important to seek help for any youth who shows signs of suicidal thoughts. A trained professional can assess the situation and provide proper treatment.


The trauma of a serious accident or sexual assault often has long-lasting effects on mood and cognition. Adolescents who experience traumatic injuries or abuse may suffer from depression, as well as other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include long periods of re-experiencing a traumatic event in the form of intrusive memories or nightmares, alternated with periods of avoidance and emotional numbing. These alterations in mood and thinking can lead to a loss of interest in activities and a preoccupation with self-blame, a lack of empathy with others, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Mood disorders and eating disorders can also increase suicide risk. A person with schizophrenia, for example, may hear voices telling them to kill themselves (auditory hallucinations). Substance use is a factor in many youth suicides, and firearms are used in the majority of completed suicides. It is essential for trauma centers and healthcare providers to understand the epidemiology, risk factors, warning signs and management strategies for suicide among adolescent trauma patients.