Teen Suicide, Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The tragedy of a young person dying because of overwhelming hopelessness or frustration is devastating to family, friends, and community. Parents, siblings, classmates, coaches, and neighbors might be left wondering if they could have done something to prevent that young person from turning to suicide.

National suicide prevention efforts have focused on school education programs, crisis center hotlines, media guidelines (suicide prevention strategies that involve educating media professionals about the prevalence of copycat suicides among adolescents, in an effort to minimize the impact of news stories reporting suicide), and efforts to limit firearm access.

The reasons behind a teen’s suicide or attempted suicide can be complex. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases greatly during adolescence.
Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

Suicide is a relatively rare event and it is difficult to accurately predict which persons with these risk factors will ultimately commit suicide. But generally here are some suicide warning signs among teens:

1) Talking about dying: Any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self-harm.

2) Recent loss: Through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, or activities previously enjoyed.

3) Change in personality: Sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic.

4) Change in behavior: Can’t concentrate on school, work, or routine tasks.

5) Change in sleep patterns: Insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, or nightmares.

6) Change in eating habits: Loss of appetite and weight or overeating.

7) Fear of losing control: Acting erratically, harming self, or others.

8) Low self-esteem: Feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me.”

9) No hope for the future: Believing things will never get better, or that nothing will ever change.
The risk of suicide increases dramatically when kids and teens have access to firearms at home, and nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. That’s why any gun in your home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.

Overdose using over-the-counter prescription, and non-prescription medicine is also a very common method for both attempting and completing suicide. It’s important to monitor carefully all medications in your home. Also, be aware that teens will “trade” different prescription medications at school and carry them (or store them) in their locker or backpack.

One in five teenagers in the U.S. seriously considers suicide annually, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2003, 8 percent of adolescents attempted suicide, representing approximately 1 million teenagers, of whom nearly 300,000 receive medical attention for their attempt; and approximately 1,700 teenagers died by suicide each year. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), currently, the most effective suicide prevention programs equip mental health professionals and other community educators and leaders with sufficient resources to recognize who is at risk and who has access to mental health care.

If you need immediate assistance you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit their website. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s mission is to provide immediate assistance to individuals in suicidal crisis by connecting them to the nearest available suicide prevention and mental health service provider through the toll-free telephone number listed above. It is the only national suicide prevention and intervention telephone resource funded by the Federal Government.

This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.