Youth Suicide Risk Factors

The teen years can be particularly difficult for many kids. Youths that fit certain demographic groups including male sex, American Indian/Alaska Native and those in the child welfare or juvenile justice system are at higher risk for suicide [1].

Kids at high-risk also often have a history of trauma. This can include abuse, death of a loved one and separation from family due to divorce, deployment or incarceration.


During adolescence, youth are facing many changes and challenges that can cause stress. They may be dealing with new social groups, forming their identity and self-confidence and developing intimate relationships. These experiences can be hard and lead to depression.

They can also be coping with medical problems, academic pressures, family conflict and violence. Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect a teen’s life and health. It is important to reassure teens that depression and suicidal thoughts are treatable. It is also important to provide them with a supportive environment and good communication with doctors, teachers and coaches. Changing moods are often warning signs that can help a person recognize when they might be at risk of suicide. These symptoms can include withdrawing from friends, apathy or sleep changes.


Addictions, particularly alcohol and drug abuse, are known to be among the leading causes of suicide in teens. Alcohol and drugs, especially marijuana, can change the chemistry of the brain, making teenagers more susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, adolescents who are addicted to substances often have problems at school and in their personal relationships.

People with addictions may also have underlying mental health disorders that contribute to their addictions. They might use drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. In addition, peer pressure can be a big factor in starting to use drugs and can lead to addictions. Additionally, a history of abuse or trauma increases a person’s risk for substance abuse. Treatment for addictions typically starts with medically supervised detoxification.

Family Issues

Children and teens who experience trauma, abuse or neglect are at increased risk for suicide. This may include the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of housing, failure in school or witnessing a violent act/accident or physical/sexual assault.

Warning signs to watch out for are changes in sleep and eating patterns, withdrawn behavior, frequent complaining of stomachaches or headaches, apathy and loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities. It is important to talk openly about suicide and listen to your child. Never ignore or dismiss suicidal thoughts as teenage drama. Help them get the mental health care they need.

Social Issues

A child or teen at risk of suicide may also experience other social problems. Some of these include:

A history of poor coping skills or high levels of anxiety and depression. Alcohol and drug use. A family history of suicide or previous attempts. Feelings of rejection, humiliation and hopelessness. Struggling with a sexual orientation in an environment that is not accepting.

Researchers have found that social injustice and oppression can lead to higher rates of suicide among those who live in that environment. A clinical-psychiatric approach cannot adequately address these issues, but a social justice framework can. This involves making people aware of these inequities, the harm they do at-risk individuals and how each can make a difference to promote human rights and dignity.

Mental Illness

Suicide among adolescents can be complicated, as teens may have a variety of mental illnesses that lead to thoughts of wanting to die or attempting suicide. Several risk factors can also contribute to suicide attempts, including a history of previous suicides or psychiatric disorders, a person’s specific personality characteristics, triggering psychosocial stressors and the availability of lethal means of suicide.

Teens who have tried suicide or have thoughts of suicide should get a full comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. Those who are at highest risk should have access to a trained psychiatrist and/or other mental health professionals. HCPs can refer them to a crisis center, the Emergency Department or a walk-in mental health clinic for an acute evaluation. Some may require medication or psychotherapy. These patients should have a plan for safe storage of firearms and other potentially dangerous items.