Risk Factors for Youth Suicide

The risk of suicide in adolescence is the result of a complex interplay of risk factors. These include mental disorders, underlying issues, a family history of suicide attempts, and the availability of means to commit suicide.

Children and teens who talk about or plan suicide should be referred to a mental health professional for evaluation. Remove weapons from the home and keep them locked away until the evaluation is complete.


Depression is a well-known risk factor for suicide in youth. A suicide attempt or completed act of self-harm can be seen as a cry for help during this period of life, especially when there are family and/or relationship conflicts or significant life events that create an intolerable level of mental anguish (1,2).

Those struggling with depression may have difficulty finding a safe person to talk to about their feelings. They may also experience a sense of isolation from their peers. Many of these teens find relief by abusing drugs and alcohol, which are often readily available to them, despite the fact that these substances can have serious, life-threatening side effects (2,3). Warning signs of depression to watch for include changes in sleep and eating habits, a lack of interest or engagement with friends and/or family members, and irritability. They may also become preoccupied with death and write about it in their journals or on social media.

Psychiatric Disorders

A psychiatric disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, can increase the risk of suicide. These conditions cause feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, often accompanied by self-destructive behaviour. In addition, people with these disorders may feel unable to rely on family or friends for support.

Many people who commit suicide are impulsive, often acting on strong feelings of anger or frustration. They may also be attracted to the perceived glamour of suicide methods such as jumping from high places, running into traffic or poisoning themselves with prescription drugs. For example, a young person with schizophrenia may believe that he or she is better off dead to spare others suffering. Several preventive strategies have been proposed to reduce youth suicide. These include limiting the availability of weapons, providing crisis hotlines and educating gatekeepers to be on the lookout for signs of suicidal thinking. Family physicians and psychiatry programs affiliated with hospitals or medical schools can be sources of help.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse involves taking illegal or prescription drugs and alcohol too much or for the wrong reasons. Drugs affect the chemistry of your brain and can change your emotions. Substance abuse can cause problems with your family, school and work. Drugs can also increase your risk for mental illness, such as depression and ADHD.

Drugs include hallucinogens, such as PCP and LSD; hypnotics and sedatives, such as sleeping pills, benzodiazepines and barbiturates; and stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. You can become addicted to any of these substances, even if you only use them occasionally. Addictions are more common in people with mental health problems or who have a history of trauma.

Drugs can affect your thinking and mood, which can lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors. This can be especially dangerous if you’re trying to cope with depression or another psychiatric disorder. Drugs can also lead to physical problems, including a high risk of infection with HIV or AIDS.


Bullying has a devastating impact on youth, whether they are victims or perpetrators. It can cause them to lose their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing, it affects their education and they often feel that their life is not worth living. This can lead to feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts.

Widespread access to technology enables bullying to occur in many forms including online, and in some cases this has been linked to suicide. Bullying and cyberbullying should be taken seriously and schools should work with parents and students to help prevent this type of behaviour.

Studies have shown that both being a victim of bullying and being a bully is associated with a higher risk of suicide. However, it is important to note that some studies have found a weaker connection between these two factors. This may be because some studies ask victims to self-report if they have been bullied whereas others ask about specific behaviors that might indicate bullying, which can result in a bias.