Adolescence is a time of significant emotional, cognitive and social change. It is also a period when adolescents are at risk for mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety.
There are many risk factors and warning signs for youth suicide, including mental health problems, previous attempts, personality traits, family processes and access to means of committing suicide. It is important to reduce these risks and strengthen protective factors as much as possible.
The risk of suicide is a complex interaction between genetic, biological, psychological and social factors. Some risk factors are fixed, such as a previous attempt, while others change over time, such as depression or drug use.
Some teens are at high risk for suicide because of a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia or an eating disorder. They may hear voices that tell them to kill themselves or believe that it is better to die than to go through life suffering.
They might also have trouble coping with their problems, such as rejection, failure, breakups or family turmoil. They might not know how to handle their feelings or that they can get help.
Strong connections to people, such as family and friends, are protective against suicide. Kids with good problem-solving skills and those who are able to resolve conflicts in non-violent ways are also at lower risk.
In the teen years, many kids experience major physical, social and emotional changes. These may leave them feeling stressed, confused, overwhelmed and worried about their futures.
As a parent, you should watch for signs of mental health problems or suicide in your teen. These signs can be reflected in their behavior, school work or household chores.
Sudden changes in their appearance, sleeping habits, or eating patterns can also be red flags. In addition, changes in their mood or their ability to concentrate are warning signs that they could be thinking about suicide.
Young people who talk about suicide or actually try to kill themselves often have feelings of hopelessness and depression. They may also make threats or attempt to hurt themselves.
Every October and May, the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) sees an increase in teenagers who are coming in for treatment for mental health and behavioral problems. These young people often have suicide thoughts, says Kirsten A. Bechtel, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at YNHCH.
It’s not always clear why these teens are thinking about suicide, but Dr. Bechtel says it’s often related to stressors they’ve experienced in the past. She says bullying, school pressures, and family issues are common concerns for this age group.
Several intervention programs for suicidal adolescents have been evaluated with varying levels of effectiveness. Among them, the Family Intervention for Suicide Prevention (FISP; Asarnow, Berk, & Baraff, 2009; Hughes & Asarnow, 2013) is an effective treatment that improves continuity of care after a suicide risk assessment.
Other parent-focused interventions that have been evaluated include the Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program (RAP-P; Pinedas & Dadds, 2013), and the Adolescent Behavior Facilitation Training (ABFT; Andover, Morris, Wren & Bruzzese, 2012). RAP-P has been shown to reduce adolescent suicidal ideation in the first year after implementation.
The primary aim of youth suicide prevention is to prevent suicide, reduce the risk of attempts and deaths from suicide and support people at risk. This requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates health, education and community services.
Adolescence is a challenging period of development, marked by changes to lifestyle and social circumstances, and often associated with mental health challenges. For some adolescents, these transitions can trigger emotional and behavioural problems that increase the risk of suicide.
Increasing awareness of suicide and mental health amongst youth, their parents and carers, schools and communities to enable them to recognise early signs that someone is at risk. Improving the capacity of local services to respond at critical points in time to minimise risks and build resilience for those at risk and their families.
Suicide is a complex disorder with many different causes and if not treated promptly, can have life-changing consequences. Suicide can be prevented by working with youth, their families and communities to ensure they have a safe place to live, access to the right support and services, and a safe environment in which to express feelings of distress or hopelessness.