Adolescent Suicide Risk Factors and Prevention

Suicide: It’s every parent’s worst nightmare when it comes to their teens and young adult children.

Almost 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, and it’s the third-leading cause of death in young people aged 15-24.

For every suicide that ends in death, there are 25 attempts that do not end in death.

As the parent of an adolescent, it’s important to know the risk factors for suicide and the signs of suicidal ideation. Read on for vital information on these topics along with tips on preventing adolescent suicide and getting help for your teen.


The majority of people who commit suicide are suffering from depression. Depression can make its victims feel that nothing will ever get better. If your teen has depression, he or she might be sad, angry, guilty, or apathetic. They might have a hard time getting out of bed or eating; conversely, they might have insomnia or eat too much. Your teen with depression might lose interest in favorite activities or avoid spending time with some of his or her best friends.

You might notice that your teenager isn’t showering regularly or doesn’t care about his or her appearance. He or she might stop doing schoolwork or reporting to sports practice, a job, or other extracurricular activities. Some teens with depression will harm themselves by cutting or burning (though it’s important to know that most teens who self-harm do not attempt suicide). As the condition progresses, those affected might make a plan to commit suicide.


You might have heard of bullying-related suicides. Nearly a third of U.S. students have either been bullied or bullied someone else, making it a prevalent problem. Children and teenagers who are bullied can become depressed, socially anxious, and, in some cases, suicidal. They might suffer from low self-esteem and experience feelings ranging from sadness and worthlessness to frustration and rage.

Cyberbullying is an issue with today’s constant connectivity. Teens can harass each other not only in person but also via the Internet, text messages, emails, social media, and any other platform that they use to communicate. Many times, teens are more likely to say and do cruel things when they have the buffer of a device such as a smartphone or a computer.

Anxiety, OCD, and Other Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues other than depression can cause thoughts of suicide. Two of these are anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly called OCD. When anxious or obsessive thoughts get overwhelming, some adolescents might begin to think that suicide is the answer.

A teen who has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other serious mental illnesses might also think about committing suicide. It’s vital to get your teen the help they need if you suspect a mental health disorder.

Signs of Suicidal Ideation

Some of the signs of an increased risk of adolescent suicide are the same signs as depression. Signs of suicidality can include:

  • sadness
  • a feeling of hopelessness
  • appetite or sleep changes
  • problems with school
  • social isolation

Of course, they can also be signs of depression or other issues that are not related to a mental health condition.

If your teen seems obsessed with death or guns, that could be a sign that they are thinking about suicide. So could giving away treasured items or saying things like, “It will all be better when I’m gone,” or “I wish I were dead.” Collecting pills that they could use to overdose or looking up and talking about different ways to die are other signs that they are thinking about suicide.

Preventing Adolescent Suicide

Although people who are considering suicide often show signs, they don’t always. One of the best ways you can know what’s going on with your teen is by talking to them. Talk about their feelings and what they’re doing. Make it clear that they can come to you no matter what. Never ridicule them for being bullied or for having symptoms of depression or any other mental health issues.

Talking about mental illness is a good way to reduce the stigma of depression, anxiety, and other issues. Knowing that you don’t think less of people who have mental health concerns could lead your teen to open up to you about tough feelings.

You can also help prevent adolescent suicide by being aware of the signs and risk factors. If your teen is bullied, work with the school administration and, if necessary, local law enforcement to get it stopped. If your teen is depressed, seek help.

Getting Help for Your Teen

If your teen is showing signs of depression, go to his or her pediatrician or family doctor first. That’s because there are some physical health problems that can masquerade as or cause depression. For example, thyroid problems can cause the fatigue and lethargy that you might mistake for depression.

If they get a clean bill of physical health, ask for a referral to a mental health specialist who works with adolescents. Your teen might need counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medication. Do talk to your child’s doctor about the risks of antidepressants in young people. In some cases, teens who have had suicidal ideation notice an increase in their symptoms when on certain medications.

If your teen seems to be in immediate danger, first remove all access to weapons (guns, knives, razors, medications that could be used to overdose, cleaning chemicals, etc.). Then head to the nearest emergency or call 911. The hospital will be able to perform a mental health evaluation and either keep them in the mental health unit or refer out to an inpatient program at a different facility.

In Conclusion

Depression and suicidal ideation can be overcome. The key is detecting it in time to stop an adolescent suicide from happening. If you are concerned about your teen or another teen you know and it’s not an emergency situation, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will be able to give you advice 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Talk to your teen about the danger of suicide and encourage him or her to talk to an adult if they feel overwhelmed or depressed. This advice might save their life.

Commonly Asked Questions

What Are the Common Signs of Suicidal Ideation?

Similar to symptoms of depression, signs of suicidal ideation can include sadness, a feeling of hopelessness, appetite or sleep changes, problems in school, and social isolation.

How Can I Help Prevent Adolescent Suicide?

One of the most effective ways to understand what’s actually going on in the minds of teens is communication. Talk about their feelings and what they’re doing. Also, talking about mental illness is a good way to reduce the stigma of depression, anxiety, and other issues.

Where Can Get Help for My Teen?

If your teen is showing signs of depression, go to his or her pediatrician or family doctor first. Ask for a referral to a mental health specialist who works with adolescents. Your teen might need counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medication.