What Everyone Should Know to Help Prevent Teen Suicide
Teenage suicide is on the rise. As the frequency of depression and anxiety increases among young people, teen suicide rates also go up—for both boys and girls.
Thus, suicide awareness is vital for parents, peers, teachers, coaches, and anyone who lives or works with teens.
By understanding the risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs, we can help prevent suicide in adolescence.
Teen Suicide Statistics
Here’s a look at the most recent suicide facts.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
- 17 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and eight percent have made failed suicide attempts in the previous 12 months.
- The suicide rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 doubled between 2007 and 2015, to 5.1 per 100,000—a 40-year high.
- For male teens ages 15 to 19, there was a 31 percent increase in suicide rates from 2007 to 2015, to 14.2 per 100,000.
- Teen girls are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than teenage boys. However, male adolescents are more likely to be successful in committing suicide.
- The primary suicide method chosen by boys is firearms; for girls, suffocation and drug overdoses.
- Compared to straight youth, the rate of teen suicide is four times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. In addition, it is two times greater for questioning youth.
- Moreover, LGB teens from rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their LGB peers.
- The number of children and teens admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm have more than doubled during the last decade. Furthermore, most of those were between the ages of 15 and 17.
- Most of these episodes of self-harm or suicidal ideation take place during the fall—back-to-school time. Thoughts of ending one’s life, or of killing oneself, are also known as suicidal ideation.
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pediatric Academic Societies
Risk Factors for Teen Suicide
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many factors can contribute to the risk of adolescent suicide. Risk factors do not cause teen suicide, but they may contribute to a teen’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt.
These risk factors include:
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders
- Family history of suicide
- A history of substance abuse
- Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma
- Social isolation or bullying
- Losing a family member through death or divorce
- Financial or job loss
- Conflict within relationships
- Starting or changing psychotropic medications
- Feeling stigmatized
- Lack of support.
For every person who attempts or completes suicide, many more suffer from suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is defined as having suicidal thoughts—thoughts of ending one’s life. This is much more common than we might imagine.
However, thinking about suicide does not necessarily mean that a teen will make an actual suicide attempt. Many teens may think about suicide, but their suicidal thoughts do not progress to suicide plans or suicide attempts.
Moreover, suicidal thoughts can also become a cognitive habit, an ongoing mental pattern. Such thoughts often result from depression, or from a desire to escape a situation that seems impossible to handle.
Suicidal thoughts can quickly escalate to a suicide attempt, so teens suffering from suicidal ideation need treatment before any actual planning begins.
Teen Suicide Attempts
Every 40 seconds, someone ends their life, somewhere in the world. However, there are a great many more suicide attempts than deaths by suicide. The majority of attempts go unreported because of stigma and shame.
The CDC defines a suicide attempt as non-fatal, potentially injurious behavior that is self-directed, with the original intent to bring about death. Although a suicide attempt might not result in injury, attempted suicide is a critically dangerous event.
Some people plan suicide attempts, while others are impulsive. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, at least one million people in the US each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm. Moreover, the ratio of suicide attempts to suicide death in youth is estimated to be about 25:1.
Suicide Warning Signs
There are ways to recognize whether someone is considering a suicide attempt. Here are some of the warning signs.
- Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
- Searching online for methods of committing suicide
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away prized possessions
- Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance
- Migraines, frequent stomachaches, or other physical complaints
- Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.
If you see any of these signs, take the following actions:
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including ﬁrearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
- Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention and Awareness
There is suicide help available for teens who are having suicidal thoughts. Suicide support can take the form of a suicide prevention hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline runs a network of crisis centers with suicide hotlines. Moreover, they provide information about taking suicide precautions.
In addition, many organizations work to decrease stigma around teen depression and suicidal ideation. Thus, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month every September is an opportunity for mental health and youth organizations to share resources and stories that help bring these topics out into the open. Ultimately, such efforts are designed to help teens understand that they are not alone.
Factors that Protect Against Teen Suicide
Along with risk factors, there are also factors that protect against teen suicide. These include the following:
- Access to treatment for mental health, physical health, and substance abuse disorders, including suicide assessment when warranted
- Family and community support
- Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
- Tools for coping and emotional self-regulation
- Cultural and/or religious beliefs that discourage suicide.
Suicide and Teen Depression
Suicide can be the tragic result of untreated depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of American youth will experience some degree of teen depression. Thus, treatment for depression is a vital factor in suicide prevention.
With suicidal depression, different forms of individual therapy contribute toward sustainable healing. Furthermore, such treatment is also essential for suicide survivors.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT brings clarity to what a teen is thinking and feeling. CBT identifies the emotions that often result in a sense of isolation. Consequently, it identifies the self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult. CBT provides valuable insight for the depressed teen.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: DBT provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation. These skills can be used right away and become stronger with practice.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy: MET leads to transformation and healing. This therapy helps teens make positive choices. MET helps resolve any initial resistance to treatment.
Additionally, developing positive coping skills for managing stress can help protect teens against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
In conclusion, teen suicide is preventable. The cure is awareness, knowledge, and access to resources. As individuals and a society, we must do everything we can to reverse the current adolescent mental health crisis and its accompanying suicide trends.
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
—Harriet Beecher Stowe