The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and even thinking about it can cause extreme distress. Horrifically, far too many families have to face the tragedy of child or teen suicide. In fact, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 35.
Though it’s hard to think about, all parents should be aware of the risks. Most importantly, parents should be able to identify warning signs of suicide and learn how to intervene if needed. Early intervention can save lives.
Which Teens Are Most At Risk of Suicide?
Suicide can affect anyone from any walk of life. However, some people are more at-risk than others. Research finds that teens are more at risk for suicide if they:
- Identify as LGBTQIA, particularly without supportive family and friends
- Live with a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- Use alcohol or drugs
- Have a family history of suicide
- Know someone who died by suicide
- Get bullied at school
- Have access to lethal means, including medications and firearms
- Feel like asking for help is unacceptable
- Lack the services they need, such as mental health care
Teens may also be at risk of suicide in the direct aftermath of a serious loss. This includes the death of a loved one, natural disasters, and breakups.
Warning Signs of Teen Suicide
Perhaps the most obvious way to know that a child or teen is considering suicide is if they say so or write about it. Any statement like “I want to die,” or “I’ll kill myself,” should be taken seriously. Although teens can be dramatic, never think that a teen is “just being dramatic” when they say or write things like this.
Even if they have said it before, don’t think of them as the teen who cried wolf. Take it seriously any time they talk about wanting to die, and listen to them. Even if they feel this way for something you see as a no-big-deal, it could be a significant issue for them.
Of course, not every teen will outright say that they are having suicidal thoughts. And it can be hard to understand their thought processes in the best of times. Even if they never say it, you should take any of the following actions as warning signs that a teen is considering suicide:
- Significantly reducing social contact
- Noticeable changes in sleep
- Significant changes in eating habits
- Panicked often
- Performing much worse in school
- Giving away favorite items and prized possessions
- Unusual rebellious or violent behaviors
- Major changes to their personality
- Self-destructive behaviors
- No longer planning for the future
Many of these signs could be explained by other issues. However, if you believe your teen could be considering suicide, it’s important to ask them and seek the appropriate help.
Protective Factors Against Teen Suicide
Just like there are factors that increase a teen’s risk of suicide, there are other factors that can protect them against suicide. Research shows that the following can be protective factors:
- Strong social connections–family, friends, and community
- Healthy coping skills
- Mental health care for disorders
- Sense of purpose and meaning in life
- Beliefs that discourage suicide
- Healthy self-esteem
What To Do If Your Teen Has Suicidal Thoughts
If you discover that your teen has suicidal thoughts, you will be understandably worried. Be sure to stay connected to your teen and get mental health care. If your teen is in immediate danger, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 or take them to the nearest emergency room. We also have a step-by-step guide for what to do if a loved one considers suicide.