Warning Signs of Suicide for Teens & Knowing What to Do

“Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all persons regardless of age, sex or race; the third leading cause of death for young peoples ages 15-24; the fourth leading cause of death for persons ages 10-14” according to a study by P.E. Muller. Suicide is preventable and treatable if you know the warning signs!

Generally boys commit suicide at a higher rate than girls. By looking at the warning signs of suicide, learning how to respond to someone who is potentially suicidal, and accessing good treatment resources, a parent or friend can help lower the risk of suicide for a teenager.

The Risk Factors 

Specific risk factors often increase the chances that a young person will become suicidal. The more factors present the greater the likelihood of suicidal behavior. Here are some common factors to observe:

  • Recent Loss: Loved one, good friend or family member, divorce, and family break-up.
  • Recent Trauma: Life altering medical problem, accident or crisis.
  • Prior history of suicide attempt: In 30-50% of successful suicide attempts, there is evidence of a prior attempt. Family history of suicide also increases the likelihood.
  • Alcohol or substance abuse: This disinhibitor can lead to self-destructive behavior and impulsivity. Anger, rage, hopelessness, and depression are increased by such abuse.
  • Access to lethal weapons: Pills, weapons
  • Lack of peer support: Rejected or being misunderstood, limited time spent with working parents or a single parent, absence of a close “buddy”.

Warning Signs 

Suicide warning signs usually lead to an actual suicide attempt. By familiarizing yourself with these warning signs, you may save a teenager’s life. Here is what to look for:

  • Talk of suicide and death (“I can’t take it anymore” or “ I would be better off dead”). Threatening to harm oneself precedes 4 out of 5 suicidal deaths.
  • Loss of interest in school, peers and/or family.
  • Making final arrangements or giving away precious possessions.
  • Running away from home or withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Increased high risk behaviors, i.e., driving too fast or an increase in drug or alcohol use.
  • Suddenly marked changes in eating, sleeping behavior or physical appearance.

How To Help 

If someone is showing warning signs of suicidal behavior or in fact has a plan, consider the following:

  • Remove all lethal weapons from your home including pills, guns, kitchen utensils or rope.
  • Be direct: Do not be afraid to use the word suicide and probe further.
  • Reassure that you love this person. Offer hope and alternatives, and ready resources.
  • Do not be sworn to secrecy. You need to get help as soon as possible.

You also can connect to local resources through The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) or local mental health centers.

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