Youth Suicide – What You Need to Know

youth suicide

When someone takes their own life, it affects many people. It can leave those closest to the person feeling a mix of grief and guilt.

It’s important to know the warning signs of suicide. Kids and teens who talk about killing themselves need to be taken seriously. Other warning signs include: avoiding friends and family, doing dangerous things, and being secretive.


Depression is a serious mood disorder that can lead to suicide. Teens who are depressed or suicidal need to be reassured that they’re not alone and that others care about them. They also need effective treatment and support.

Depression can cause a number of warning signs, including feeling sad or hopeless, becoming irritable or angry easily, sleeping too much or not enough, losing interest in hobbies or activities that usually bring enjoyment, giving away possessions and having thoughts about self-harm. If you think your teen is struggling, keep their appointments with mental health professionals even if they say they don’t want to go.


Anxiety disorders can have a devastating effect on the mental and emotional health of youth. When untreated, they can lead to feelings of hopelessness and a belief that suicide is the only way out.

The risk for suicide also increases in adolescence for certain psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa and major depression. These conditions may first show symptoms during this time, and can include things like hearing voices that tell them to kill themselves (auditory hallucinations).

It is important for parents and other adults to know the warning signs of suicidal thinking or behaviour. They should always take them seriously, and if possible, seek help for the child or teen from their pediatric healthcare provider or community mental health services.


Stress is a major risk factor for suicide. It can manifest as extreme difficulties at school or work and persistent worrying, irritability, sleep disturbances or changes in appetite.

Stress can also cause kids to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse, self-distraction and behavioural disengagement. These tactics can have devastating consequences, including increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Kids who live in unstable families, particularly those involving domestic violence and separation from loved ones because of death, divorce, deployment or incarceration are at an especially high risk for suicide. This includes kids who have lived in foster care or were adopted. Having good support networks is also important.

Family Issues

Many suicides are caused by relationship conflicts and/or abuse. This includes physical and emotional abuse, and bullying, both face-to-face and online (cyberbullying). Kids who are bullied often develop a high level of depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Research has shown that Black youth who have a positive family environment are less likely to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. This is consistent with Bronfenbrenner’s socioecological theory, which focuses on both risk and protective factors from a developmental perspective. The negative effects of a strained family environment include: family conflict, low parental monitoring, and stressful family events. The positive effects of a healthy family environment include: parental support and positive parent relationships.

Social Issues

Young people are social creatures, and they often seek belonging and security in their peer groups. Loss of these ties can be devastating. Relationship break-ups, the death of friends, and peer rejection are common risk factors in youth suicide.

The coronavirus pandemic posed unforeseen challenges for many youth, with lockdowns and school closures causing disruption of normal life experiences and decreased access to mental health care. Some researchers speculate that cumulative stress and a lack of ongoing mental health support may be the reason why rates of suicide remained elevated later into the pandemic.

Pediatric health clinicians and adults working with youth in school and community settings need to be alert for warning signs of suicide, including changes in sleep patterns or eating habits. These can signal that a teenager is thinking about taking his or her own life.


Self-harm is a behavior in which adolescents hurt themselves on purpose. It usually starts in the teen years and may be used as a way to cope with intense emotions. It can involve cutting, burning, scratching or hitting yourself.

Parents often find clues of this behavior, such as bloody tissues in a wastebasket or the smell of alcohol or drugs. A calm, non-judgmental approach and validation of their emotions can help.

Treatment options can include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and family skills training. These therapies focus on teaching patients and their families how to regulate thoughts and behaviors, as well as address the underlying issues.