Teen Suicide and Suicide Ideation
What is teen suicide?
Suicide is when a teen causes his or her own death on purpose. Before trying to take their own life, a teen may have thoughts of wanting to die. This is called suicidal ideation. He or she may also have suicidal behavior. That’s when a teen is focused on doing things that cause his or her own death.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24. The CDC reports that:
- Boys are 4 times more likely to die from suicide than girls.
- Girls are more likely to try to commit suicide than boys.
- Guns are used in more than half of all youth suicides.
What causes a teen to attempt suicide?
The teen years are a stressful time. They are filled with major changes. These include body changes, changes in thoughts, and changes in feelings. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear, and doubt may affect a teen’s problem-solving and decision-making. He or she may also feel a pressure to succeed.
For some teens, normal developmental changes can be very unsettling when combined with other events, such as:
- Changes in their families, such as divorce, siblings moving out, or moving to a new town
- Changes in friendships
- Problems in school
- Other losses
These problems may seem too hard or embarrassing to overcome. For some, suicide may seem like a solution.
Which teens are at risk for suicide?
A teen’s risk for suicide varies with age, gender, and cultural and social influences. Risk factors may change over time. They are:
- One or more mental or substance abuse problems
- Impulsive behaviors
- Undesirable life events such as being bullied or recent losses, such as the death of a parent
- Family history of mental or substance abuse problems
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence, including physical, sexual, or verbal or emotional abuse
- Past suicide attempt
- Gun in the home
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as from family or peers, in the news, or in fiction stories
What are the warning signs of teen suicide?
Many of the warning signs of suicide are also symptoms of depression. They are:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Acting-out behaviors and running away
- Alcohol and drug use
- Neglecting one’s personal appearance
- Unnecessary risk-taking
- Obsession with death and dying
- More physical complaints often linked to emotional distress, such as stomachaches, headaches, and extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Loss of interest in school or schoolwork
- Feeling bored
- Problems focusing
- Feeling he or she wants to die
- Lack of response to praise
Another warning sign is making plans or efforts toward committing suicide:
- Says “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide.”
- Gives verbal hints, such as “I won’t be a problem much longer,” or “If anything happens to me, I want you to know ….”
- Gives away favorite things or throws away important belongings
- Becomes suddenly cheerful after being depressed
- May express strange thoughts
- Writes 1 or more suicide notes
These warning signs may seem like other health problems. Have your teen see his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a teen diagnosed as being suicidal?
Threats of suicide are a cry for help. Always take such statements, thoughts, behaviors, or plans very seriously. Any teen who expresses thoughts of suicide should not be left alone and should be evaluated right away. Talk with your teen’s healthcare provider about suicide and have a written emergency plan.
Any teen who has tried to commit suicide needs a physical checkup first to rule out life-threatening health problems. He or she should then get a mental health evaluation and treatment until he or she is stable. This often will take place at an inpatient facility to make sure of the child’s safety.
How is a teen treated for suicidal behavior?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment starts with a detailed evaluation of events in your teen’s life during the 2 to 3 days before the suicidal behaviors. Treatment may include:
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy. Parents play a vital role in treatment.
- An extended hospital stay, if needed. This gives the child a supervised and safe environment.