Teen Suicide

Teen Suicide Statistics

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 19 years.
  • Every day, 14 young people (ages 15 to 24) commit suicide, or approximately 1 every 100 minutes.
  • Almost all people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental or substance use disorder; the majority have more than one.
  • Fifty-three percent of young people who commit suicide abuse substances.
  • Four times as many men as women commit suicide, but young women attempt suicide three times more frequently than young men.

The Teenage Years

The teenage years may often be a chaotic period in one’s life. Adolescents are confronted with a variety of issues – maturation of their bodies, changes in their relationships, decisions about their futures, etc. This transitional period can be very exciting but it can also be a time of emotional upheaval.

Overwhelming Uncertainty

Some teens become overwhelmed by the uncertainties of adolescence and feel they have nowhere to turn. Their search for answers may lead them to begin “self-medicating” their pain by abusing drugs or alcohol. Or they might express their rage and frustration by engaging in acts of violence. They don’t want to talk about their emotions or problems because they may be embarrassed, they may think that will make them a burden, or that others will make fun of them. Too often, these troubled teens opt instead to take their own lives.

Suicide Risk Factors

Depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors are relatively the greatest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth. The following symptoms, experiences, or behaviors warrant the assistance of a trusted adult and may require consultation with a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or therapist.

  • Depressed mood
  • Substance abuse
  • Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated
  • Family loss or instability; significant problems with parents
  • Expressions of suicidal thoughts, or talk of death or the afterlife during moments of sadness or boredom
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
  • No longer interested in or enjoying activities that once were pleasurable
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Impulsive, aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage

Precipitants

Adolescents who consider suicide generally feel alone, hopeless, and rejected. They are especially vulnerable to these feelings if they have experienced a loss, humiliation, or trauma of some kind: poor performance on a test, breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, parents with alcohol or drug problems or who are abusive, or a family life affected by parental discord, separation, or divorce. However, a teenager still may be depressed or suicidal even without any of these adverse conditions.

Warning Signs

Teenagers who are planning to commit suicide might “clean house” by giving away favorite possessions, cleaning their rooms, or throwing things away. After a period of depression, they may also become suddenly cheerful because they think that by deciding to end their lives they have “found the solution.” Young people who have attempted suicide in the past or who talk about suicide are at greater risk for future attempts. Listen for hints like “I’d be better off dead” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”.

What Can Be Done?

Teens aren’t helped by lectures or by hearing all the reasons they have to live. What they need is to be reassured that they have someone to whom they can turn to discuss their feelings or problems, such as family, friends, school counselor, physician, or teacher. It must be a person who is very willing to listen and who is able to reassure the individual that depression and suicidal tendencies can be treated. Treatment is of utmost importance. Consult a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor or your family physician. Help can also be found through your local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) or Mental Health Association.

It’s OK to Ask

Asking about suicidal ideas does not suggest suicide to a teen. Many times a person who is having thoughts of killing himself or herself will want to talk about it if given the appropriate opportunity and setting. Individuals who have completed suicide frequently had mentioned suicide prior to the attempt. Opportunities for intervention and prevention are almost always present. It is important to take positive steps in situations where suicide risk factors, precipitants or warning signs are present.

Take Time to Care

In short, simply taking the time to talk to troubled teenagers about their emotions or problems can help prevent the senseless tragedy of teen suicide. Let them know that help is available.