Many youth are at risk for suicide. This includes children and adolescents with mental health disorders, those who have tried to kill themselves before, and those who live in rural areas, or work in certain industries and occupations.
Warning signs can include a change in sleeping or eating patterns, talk of death or suicide, access to lethal substances and/or weapons, and sudden withdrawal from friends or family.
Adolescence is a time of significant cognitive, emotional and social change. Many of these changes are positive but some can be stressful. The loss of a loved one, a break-up or the onset of a mental health challenge are common stressors for youth.
People who commit suicide often report a history of stressors that build up over time. These may include family issues, school problems or substance abuse.
Studies show that certain racial and ethnic groups are at greater risk for suicidal thoughts. This may be because of ongoing discrimination or a lack of access to developmentally appropriate mental health services. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing disparities for some groups.
Depression affects teens and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Teens may also feel a sense of worthlessness or guilt, making them more likely to act out. Depression can cause kids to withdraw from friends and family, causing isolation.
Moodiness can also interfere with a teen’s ability to concentrate and focus at school. They might complain about headaches or stomachaches and have trouble sleeping. Depression can cause kids to give away or destroy their belongings.
If a teen is thinking about suicide, it’s important to take their thoughts seriously. They need help, not a lecture. They should visit a mental health professional as soon as possible. Don’t agree to keep their suicidal feelings a secret, even if they say they don’t want you to know.
Adolescents who abuse alcohol and drugs are at a much higher risk of suicide than those who do not. Depression and mood disorders often accompany adolescent substance abuse and can cause feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and self-worth issues that lead to drug and alcohol use.
Substance abuse also causes other problems, including declining grades, truancy, and an increased need for juvenile and criminal justice services. These problems lead to stress on families, as well as additional cost burdens for the community.
A recent study found that adolescent alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking are associated with suicidal ideation and attempts. The study used a Cox proportional hazards model to compare the onset of these substances with the incidence of suicide behavior in a community sample.
Kids who don’t get good care from their family can be at risk for suicide. They may feel misunderstood, isolated or devalued. Family problems can include domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. Kids can also become depressed and anxious about separation from family due to divorce, deployment, incarceration or death.
Signs to look for include changes in sleep or eating habits. Kids who talk about or write about suicide should always be taken seriously. It’s also important to know that kids who are bullied-whether they’re the victim or the bully-are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and actions. Kids can also be at risk for suicide if they have easy access to lethal weapons, like guns and pills. Family counseling can help with these problems.
Often, youth who try to kill themselves feel that they’re being ignored. They want attention from friends, school counselors and adults they trust. They also want their problem solved.
Adolescents have a very difficult time connecting with people because they’re undergoing a huge amount of social change. They’re preparing for adult roles involving education, work, relationships and living situations.
Their coping abilities may be limited by major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or anorexia nervosa which can increase suicide risk. They’re more likely to live in lower socioeconomic status areas where access to lethal means of self-harm is easier. They also experience relationship conflicts with parents, boyfriend/girlfriends or other significant adults. They might believe (as part of their depressive delusions) that others would be better off without them.