Youth Suicide Risk Factors

Suicide can affect anyone. But there are some young people who are more at risk than others.

There are many warning signs that a teen may be contemplating suicide. They can include a change in their mood, avoiding friends or family members, talking about killing themselves or doing risky things.

Identifying People at Risk

Many youth suicide risk factors are complex. They often involve a combination of genetic, psychological and socio-cultural factors. However, there are some things that increase a person’s chance of committing a suicidal act, including mental disorders and previous attempts, access to lethal means and specific personality traits.

Some family-related issues can put kids at risk for suicide, including abuse or neglect and conflicts with parents. A person’s ability to seek and receive effective medical and mental health care is also a major factor. Kids with limited financial resources or those living in poverty, kids who are immigrants or those whose families have been deported and even those with mental illness and no insurance can face serious challenges.

A person who is thinking about suicide may show warning signs, such as withdrawing from friends and family or doing dangerous things to themselves like taking risks in sports, using drugs or alcohol or changing their sleep or eating habits. Kids who are thinking about suicide can also give away personal items and be preoccupied with death and dying.

Taking Suicide Attempts Seriously

Suicide is a serious act that can be deadly. Kids thinking about it or making a suicide attempt must be taken seriously and seen for what they are: a cry for help.

The stress of adolescence, with movement and changes in many domains of life, is one important risk factor for suicide. This includes loss of friends through break-ups, death of loved ones and rejection by peers. Family problems, including violence and poor communication between parents and teens also contribute to youth suicide. Kids who live in lower socioeconomic status areas are at greater risk.

Kids with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or anorexia nervosa, are at increased risk for suicide. These conditions can cause kids to hear voices (auditory hallucinations) that tell them to kill themselves, even though they may not want to die. In addition, a history of substance use is a risk factor for suicide. This can include taking high doses of drugs or alcohol and causing a break from reality.

Getting Help

Many people, including youth, are able to avoid suicide by taking the steps they need to take. The best way to prevent youth suicide is for parents, teachers and other adults who work with young people to #BeTheDifference by knowing the warning signs, having resources available and providing emotional support when it’s needed.

Warning signs to be alert for include a change in mood or behavior such as getting sad or withdrawn, becoming more irritable or anxious, acting recklessly or giving away possessions they treasure. Teens who are thinking about suicide may also make threats or try to kill themselves, which should always be taken seriously.

If a youth expresses suicidal thoughts, a mental health professional should be contacted immediately. It’s also a good idea to remove guns or other lethal tools from the house while a teen is having suicidal thoughts. This is an important safety measure, since nearly half of all suicides in youth are committed with firearms.

Supporting the Family

Often, young people who attempt suicide have suffered from background family problems including physical or psychiatric illness, conflict with parents and violence in the home. A high rate of suicide is also found among youth who have had recent major relationship conflicts (e.g., arguments with parents or boyfriend/girlfriend).

In addition, many psychiatric disorders have their onset in adolescence and can increase a person’s risk of suicide. For example, schizophrenia is associated with hallucinations and delusions that can lead to suicide attempts.

It is important to take all suicidal threats seriously and not trivialize them. If a person makes a threat to kill themselves, they are likely to act on it unless they receive help. A person who threatens suicide may be planning the act – for instance, they might be disposing of valuables, writing a note or even trying to buy or obtain weapons. This is why limiting the physical availability of such means is important.