If your adolescent child, family member, friend, or student were considering suicide, would you recognize the warning signs? If so, what would you do?
Adolescence is a time of hope and expectancy, as well as extreme disappointment and mood swings. It’s normal for teens to experience stress, confusion, and self-doubt. In addition to normal physical, hormonal, and emotional changes, teens confront many of the these additional challenges:
Teens may have fleeting thoughts or fantasies about suicide from time-to-time when they are struggling. But most do not make a suicide attempt or gesture. However, when the pressure seems too great, a teen may feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness, which can lead to serious thoughts of suicide.
How do you know when a teen is really in need of help?
Teen suicide is often due to a combination of factors. These factors may be biological, psychological, and cultural. Family issues also play a role. These factors can interact with a significant life event, like the break-up of an important relationship.
Examples of factors that put a teen at risk for suicide include:
Other risk factors include:
Adolescent behavior is often perplexing, particularly to parents, who may not be able to tell what’s problematic and what is normal. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends being alert to the following signs that may indicate an increased risk of suicide:
A teen who is planning to commit suicide may:
Pay attention if the teen in your life has any of the above risk factors and behaviors. Take all suicide threats seriously. In the very least, these threats mean that the teen is not coping well and needs help. Never dismiss a suicide attempt as attention-seeking behavior.
The teen who is struggling should be assessed and treated right away. Professional help and ongoing family support are extremely important. In some cases, the time leading up to a suicide may be relatively short. This emphasizes the need to reach out to the teen and connect with mental health services.
If you are unsure of how to get help, you can call:
In addition to reaching out for help, take steps to keep your teen safe at home. For example, remove any guns, knives, medications, and poisons from the area.
Whether you are a parent of a teen or are someone who plays an important role in a teen's life, you can help prevent suicide by developing a good relationship that is based on mutual trust, openness, and healthy communication. Although this is best established very early in life, it’s never too late. You can improve your relationship with the teen in your life by:
By being aware of suicide risk factors and warning signs, you can help teens get the support they needs to survive this challenging time in their lives. You can also help teens become more resilient to life's struggles by showing your care and concern.
Mental Health America
Youth Suicide Prevention Program
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
About teen suicide. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/suicide.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Child and adolescent suicide. Mental Health American website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/child-and-adolescent-suicide. Accessed March 6, 2014.
How to help. Youth Suicide Prevention Program website. Available at: http://www.yspp.org/about_suicide/what_to_do.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Suicide. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/feeling_sad/suicide.html. Updated November 2011. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Teen suicide. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Teen_Suicide_10.aspx. Updated July 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Teenage suicide. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Teenage_Suicide.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.
3/17/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: van Geel A, Vedder P, et al. Relationship between peer victimization, cyberbullying, and suicide in children and adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 10, 2014.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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