The rates of suicide among adolescents are high. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and young adults age 10 to 24.
Suicide is a complex but often preventable problem that requires support from pediatric health clinicians, adults working with youth in school and community settings, families, and peers. Understanding the factors that lead to suicide can help you identify the warning signs and help your teen access the care they need to stay safe and healthy.
Risk factors are characteristics of a person or his or her environment that increase the likelihood of a problem outcome.
Experiencing stressors that challenge traditional roles, such as family break-up or bullying, can be associated with suicide attempts among young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or two-spirit (LGBTQ2S+). These stressors are largely related to prejudice and discrimination.
A recent or serious loss, such as the death of a loved one, can also be linked to youth suicide. Other losses that are common include a separation or divorce from parents, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and loss of a pet.
Kids who feel their problems can be solved effectively by talking with friends or other adults are less likely to harm themselves. Strong family connections and overall resilience also help to balance out tough life issues.
One of the biggest myths about young people who talk about suicide is that they are just trying to get attention. This is not true – any talk about suicide, even if you think they don’t mean it, should be taken seriously.
Another sign to watch out for is if they start acting very different from how they used to. Changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, irritability or anxiety are all warning signs that something is wrong.
If these behaviors are new or have increased, they should prompt you to call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. It’s also a good idea to get them some help from a mental health professional.
Risk factors for suicide include depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and previous attempts. Things that reduce the chance of suicide are positive relationships, strong social support, and good mental health care. It also helps to have a family who is supportive and can help kids solve their problems.
Treatment for youth suicide is an essential component of any mental health intervention (Conwell & Thompson, 2008). There are several different psychotherapeutic and prevention strategies with proven benefits in reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
A multidisciplinary approach, including pharmacological treatments, is increasingly recognized as an effective strategy for treating youths with psychiatric disorders that are associated with suicide risk. The effectiveness of these interventions also requires addressing comorbidities, co-occurring problems, potential lethality of medications, and side effects.
Adolescents who have tried to take their own lives can be a difficult group to work with. They may be reluctant to seek out or participate in treatment due to shame, embarrassment, or a desire to put the crisis behind them.
A 6-month open trial of a community-based out-reach program involving social workers and peers in schools that focused on education about depression and suicidality was found to reduce rates of suicide attempts among adolescents who had attempted suicide. It also facilitated follow-through with aftercare, a crucial component of intervention for youth who have suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Suicide is a serious public health issue that impacts the lives of millions of individuals. Prevention is a critical component to reducing suicide and its related stigmas, myths and adverse health outcomes.
There are several things that parents, counselors, teachers, and other adults working with teens can do to prevent youth suicide. These include ensuring that teens have access to effective mental health support, addressing their stressors, and building resilience.
It is also important to take all warning signs seriously. Whether a teen is trying to kill himself or herself or has simply threatened to do so, it is best to address the threat immediately and get help if necessary.
In addition, pediatric health clinicians and other health professionals have a role in preventing suicide among youth. They can do this by providing effective mental health treatment, promoting behavioral health in schools and other settings and supporting families.