Some kids who die from suicide do so without any obvious warning signs. But it’s important for people who care about kids to watch for certain warning signs that can help them take action.
These include a change in mood, a focus on weapons or methods of self-harm, and a sudden lack of interest in friends and activities. They also may show other red flags such as trouble sleeping or changes in eating habits.
The suicide risks for kids can vary. Many things can put them at risk, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety, access to lethal means (guns, drugs) and a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts. Conflicts with parents, boys or girls and other significant people also increase risk, as can a lack of social support.
It’s important to know the warning signs of suicide and to watch for them in friends and family members. Symptoms like becoming more withdrawn, acting anxious or depressed, sleeping less and not eating well are red flags that something is wrong.
Protective factors are traits at the biological, psychological, family and community (including peers and culture) level that lower the risk of problem outcomes, such as suicide. They can include access to mental health services, strong connections to supportive people and healthy coping skills. These are especially important in communities and families where there is a high rate of suicide among youth.
Suicide attempts are when someone tries to kill themselves and fails. Often, suicide attempts are a cry for help from someone who feels overwhelmed by life and has serious problems that have not been addressed. These can include depression, a mental health condition like schizophrenia or a physical illness, a relationship conflict or family violence.
In a survey on American high school students, 16% of the respondents reported having considered suicide and 8% said they had made a plan to kill themselves. In addition, suicide is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths among young people in America.
The report also includes trend analyses of suicidal ideation, suicide plans and attempted suicide requiring medical treatment from the 2009-2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys by gender, race/ethnicity and grade. Suicide attempts are more common among youths who identify as sexual minority and those who have experienced lifetime sexual abuse and adult physical violence. They are also more likely to be in unstable living conditions.
Unlike the more well-known symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviour in young people can be difficult to recognise. However, there are warning signs that can help you to be alert for potential problems.
The teen years are a time of major physical, social and emotional changes that can cause stress and anxiety. Added to this, many youth feel the pressure to perform or conform. They may also have internal doubts or feelings of hopelessness and despair that they can’t resolve on their own.
They may also be at a higher risk of suicide if they have a psychiatric illness like anxiety or depression, such as bipolar disorder, or if they are being bullied face-to-face or online (cyberbullying). It is important to know that they should never be left alone and that they need to get help from their family, friends, school counsellors or crisis centres. It is also a good idea to keep weapons away from them.
Research indicates that suicide is preventable. The most effective prevention strategies target those at high risk for suicide, including people with psychiatric conditions like depression or schizophrenia. People who have a history of suicidal behavior or a family history of mental illness are also at increased risk. Other risk factors include substance use and the availability of lethal means of self harm such as guns or drugs.
Youths who have good problem-solving abilities, strong connections to friends and family members and people in their communities are at lower risk for suicidal thoughts or actions. Some people with a history of suicide attempt or death have a lowered risk when their access to highly lethal means of self harm is restricted.
Parents, school administrators, teachers, community and church leaders, coaches and extracurricular activity leaders, mentors and service providers can help prevent youth suicide by learning the warning signs and taking action when they are seen. The more people who make suicide prevention a priority, the fewer youths will die by their own hands.