Youth Suicide Prevention and Postvention

youth suicide

The good news is that kids who get effective care for mental health disorders are less likely to attempt suicide. They are more likely to stay connected with a treatment plan and feel supported by their family, friends, and other community members.

Children who have trouble coping may show increased interest in guns or other lethal means of harm, or they might give away personal possessions or start writing a note. They also often complain about physical symptoms, especially stomachaches or headaches.


While it’s true that the risk of suicide for each person is unique, many researchers agree that depression is a significant factor in youth suicide. It can be present alone or in combination with other mental disorders such as eating disorders (especially anorexia nervosa) and schizophrenia.

Symptoms of depression may include loss of interest in activities, poor performance at school, feelings of hopelessness and despair, weight loss, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts or attempts and a preoccupation with death. A teen who is having these feelings should be listened to and assured that they will get help.

Mood Disorders

A mood disorder is a serious mental health condition that can lead to suicide. It can include symptoms such as depressed feelings, impulsivity and thoughts about self harm.

Mood disorders often run in families. They are triggered by stressful life events such as death of a loved one, divorce or the loss of a job. They may also be a result of relationship conflicts, especially when they involve boys or girls.

People with a mood disorder who are having suicidal thoughts should see a family physician for evaluation. The physician will determine how severe the symptoms are and whether a psychiatric referral is needed.

Substance Abuse

People who abuse alcohol or drugs put themselves at risk of developing mental health problems, including depression, and suicidal behavior. Substance misuse may also affect the ability to function in daily life, making it difficult to meet major responsibilities.

People may start drinking or using drugs for recreational reasons, but this often becomes a pattern that can lead to a substance use disorder. Drugs alter the chemistry of the brain and may cause cravings that can be difficult to overcome.

The best treatment for co-occurring depression and substance abuse is psychotherapy. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in this population.

Other Psychiatric Disorders

In recent decades research on youth suicide has improved, and we now have more insight into what leads to this tragedy. Most researchers agree that the cause of suicide is complex and involves a interplay between genetic, biological, psychological and social factors.

Adolescence is a time of great change, and it is not surprising that this can lead to stressors that increase a youth’s risk of suicide. Conflicts over relationships with parents, friends or a partner are often involved.

Psychiatric disorders also increase a youth’s risk of suicide. For example, a young person with schizophrenia may hear voices that direct them to kill themselves (auditory hallucinations), even though they have no desire to die.

Financial Instability

Suicide prevention is a complex task, and requires the participation of schools, communities, and other organizations. In addition to mental health concerns, youth may be impacted by long-standing social and systemic inequities.

Affluent kids have their own set of stresses, but for those from less affluent families, these issues can become a major issue that leads to depression and even suicide. This is why it is important to be aware of signs that a teen might be thinking about suicide.

Many studies have found a positive correlation between family financial difficulties and suicidal ideation among adolescents. However, some studies have reported that suicide rates remain stable or decrease during times of economic crises.

Lack of Support

Children who do not have a supportive family can feel isolated and hopeless. This can lead to a situation where suicide seems like the only way out of their problems. Other risk factors include bullying and relationship conflicts, especially when those conflicts involve a parent or friend.

Imitation of the suicide behavior of others is also a risk factor for youths. This type of imitation is sometimes called contagion. Younger people are more prone to this type of contagion than older persons (18).

School-based programs that promote positive youth mental health have been shown to reduce the rates of suicide among teenagers. One example is the statewide program Directing Change, which incorporates a film contest and school-based “mini-grant” programs. It is undergoing a randomized controlled trial to test its effectiveness in improving knowledge and adaptive attitudes about depression and suicide.

Belief Systems

Schools and districts must create comprehensive youth suicide prevention, intervention and postvention models. The process begins with instituting policies and undertaking intervention planning and classroom-based curriculum.

Belief systems often include representations of alternative worlds, such as the world as it is and the world as it should be. Revolutionary belief systems frequently involve a belief that present reality is deficient and that certain social, economic or political factors must be manipulated to achieve an idealized state.

Be aware of a sudden excessive elevation of mood in someone who was previously depressed. This could indicate that the person is about to commit suicide.