Youth Suicide – What Are the Risk Factors for Youth Suicide?

A common picture of a youth at risk of suicide is a severely depressed and drug dependent young person who feels like they have no one to turn to. Bullying is also a risk factor, as is lack of family and social connections.

Kids with good problem-solving skills are at lower risk as are those who have strong connections to friends and family. Access to lethal means, including drugs and firearms, is another risk factor.


Depression can cause many different symptoms in teens, and the more severe cases can be a major risk factor for suicide. The condition can affect a young person’s ability to function, interact with others and think clearly. It can also contribute to a higher likelihood of psychiatric disorders and other factors that increase suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Depression also can be a risk factor for self harm, which is often a way for teenagers to cope with their feelings. It can lead to substance abuse, including the use of alcohol and most drugs, which are also depressants. These substances can alter a teen’s thinking and judgment, making it more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.

It is important to encourage a teenager who is expressing suicidal feelings to seek help from a mental health professional. A doctor can provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment, which may include talk therapy or medication. Parents can help their child find a mental health specialist by finding local resources for depression, mood disorders or mental illness.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and suicidal tendencies often co-occur in youth. This is especially true of alcohol use disorders (AUD) and other illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, PCP and hallucinogens.

Adolescents with a substance use disorder are more likely to experience other psychological problems such as depression, conduct problems and personality disorders. They are also at risk for impulsive behaviors, including reckless driving, that may lead to car accidents and other forms of self-destructive behavior.

Many youths use alcohol and drugs to escape their problems. This temporary relief, however, can actually increase depression and make suicide more likely. Drugs and alcohol have depressant effects on the body and they also remove inhibitions, making suicide plans more likely to be carried out. In 30 to 50 percent of teen suicides, substance abuse is involved. This includes both illegal drugs and legally prescribed medication such as sedatives, antidepressants and anxiolytics. It also includes alcohol and tobacco, including e-cigarettes or vaping.


Many youths who try to kill themselves show a sudden excessive elevation in mood. They often seem to want attention. It’s important to take any suicidal threat seriously. Teens who are ignored may decide that they are better off dead.

Agitation often signals the onset of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or anorexia nervosa. These conditions are usually treatable. But they can be fatal if not treated.

Teens must also deal with rapid physical growth; conflicts between parental and peer values and ideals; emotional intimacy and sexual exploration with the opposite sex; and uncertainty about their future career choices. The combination of all these stressors is why suicide rates increase during adolescence. Many more attempts are made than completed suicides. It’s important for parents to know what may lead their teens to attempt suicide. They can help them by staying in close contact with their children and offering support. They can encourage them to seek professional help if needed.

Forgotten Group

When a child commits suicide, it can cause an irreparable rupture in the family. The bereaved parents are left searching for premonitory signs and clues to make sense of the tragedy. They also feel self-reproach for not preventing the suicide, and this is often compounded by the shame that surrounds the act.

For one group of adolescents who communicated openly about their suicidal thoughts and behaviours online, the practice of cultivating a suicide identity exacerbated their feelings of distress. They became entangled in online communities that openly shared triggering content from depressing quotes and memes to graphic depictions of self-harm and suicide. The next-of-kin feared that the cultivation of this suicide identity prevented them from seeking help and recovery.

It is important to treat all suicide attempts seriously and not dismiss them as attention seeking behavior. The person who committed the attempt must be given a proper assessment, which may include professional intervention. During this process, the safety of the youth must be ensured and their immediate needs met.