Preventing Youth Suicide

youth suicide

Youth suicide is a serious problem that is particularly prevalent in the preteen and teen years. It is a time that is filled with major life changes, including body changes.

Kids who have good problem-solving skills and strong connections to their families and friends are at lower risk for suicide.

Signs of Suicide

Many children and teens who commit suicide do not act on their feelings until they reach a crisis point. It is important for parents, teachers and other adults to recognize warning signs that may signal a child or teen is considering suicide.

Some warning signs include a sudden change in sleep or eating patterns, withdrawing from friends and family, and giving away personal items for no apparent reason. Also, a young person might complain of feeling trapped or helpless in a situation and show an increased interest in guns, medicines or other means of killing themselves.

Youth who are thinking about suicide should always be taken seriously. They should be evaluated by a health care professional to rule out life-threatening illness or injuries and to get them treated for depression and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide. Four out of five people who die from suicide have an underlying mental health condition. People with depression are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Suicide Risk Factors

Most suicides are the result of a complex interplay of many factors. The overall risk is high for all kids, but especially during adolescence.

Kids who have good problem-solving skills are at lower risk of suicide. Kids who have strong connections to friends and family are at lower risk, as well. Kids who have a history of mental health issues are at greater risk for suicide, particularly major psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa.

Other risk factors include bullying (both victim and bully), drugs and alcohol, impulsive behavior, and access to lethal means like firearms. Kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirit can face stress and discrimination that increases their risk for suicide. This includes negative family reactions to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Kids who live in areas with higher rates of suicide also have a higher risk. This could be due to increased isolation from family and friends, strained relationships, or a more difficult time finding work and housing.

Suicide Prevention

Parents can help to prevent youth suicide by keeping a close eye on their children and noticing any significant changes in their behavior. They should also encourage their children to seek help for any suicidal thoughts or actions, and they should go with them when they do so. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides resources for parents and students and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

School staff have daily contact with many youth and are well positioned to observe warning signs of suicide. They should be particularly attentive to youngsters who have been exposed to violence, life threatening events or traumatic losses and those who have depression or other mental illness.

All suicide threats must be taken seriously, even if they are only spoken or posted on social media. Those who have made a suicide attempt should be carefully assessed to ensure that they are safe to return to school and/or work. In some cases, a youngster may need to be hospitalized for treatment of an underlying psychiatric illness.

Suicide Attempts

Suicide attempts in youth often occur as an impulsive act in response to acute psychosocial stressors. Attempts are most common among teens in contact with the juvenile and child welfare systems, those struggling with depression or other psychiatric conditions, and racial/ethnic minority and LGBTQ youth.

Kids and teens who talk about or threaten suicide should always be taken seriously. Threats can be verbal or written, in texts or posts on social media. Risky behaviors like over-indulging in alcohol or drugs can also make suicide more likely. Having access to weapons in the home is another risk factor, as well as trading or misusing prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) youth are four times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their straight peers. Other risk factors include a history of bullying or family conflict, and being from low socioeconomic status areas.