Teens: Stay Weird, Don’t Let Your Uniqueness Lead To Suicide

On February 22 of this year, Graham Moore, a young screenwriter gave a moving speech and directed some of his words towards teenagers. Moore is an Academy Award winner for the Best Adapted Screenplay and during his acceptance speech, he admitted that he has contemplated suicide at the age of 16. Moore also told reporters later that he struggled with depression as a teen.


During his speech, Moore encouraged those teens who feel like the odd one out, to “stay weird, stay different,” he said. The Detroit Free Press highlighted the speech as a “moment for national awareness for teen suicide”. Despite his struggles as a teen, Moore was living proof that evening of the possibility of success in later life.


Sadly, teen suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. In fact, as the Detroit Free Press article indicates that just a few days prior to Moore’s speech, a nine-year-old boy hung himself after getting into an argument with his family. Research regarding suicide continues to be necessary particularly because the suicide rate for teens has been steady in recent years. Although rates are not growing, any occurrences of suicide are problematic within society. Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death of adolescents. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that there are as many as 25 attempts of suicide to every one that is actually committed. Male teens are four more times likely to die from suicide, whereas female adolescents are more likely to make suicide attempts.


At the same time, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) points out that about 20% of teens have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. About 90% of teens that died by taking their own life had an underlying mental health condition.


Depression continues to be a common mental illness among teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 8% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. One in five teens have experienced depression at some point in their teenage years. NAMI also points out that in clinical settings, such as group homes, hospitals, or rehabilitative centers, as many as 28% of teens experience depression.


Other causes of suicide include divorce of parents, domestic violence, lack of success or progress in school, feelings of unworthiness, death of a loved one, and others. Research reveals that untreated mental illness, particularly depression, is the number one cause of suicide. This is true of adolescents as well as adults. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 38,3641 suicides (teens and adults both) reported in 2010, which makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. For adolescents only, the suicide rate in 2010 was at 10.5%.  Knowing this, you might see why Moore’s encouragement that teens veer away from suicide and trust in their own uniqueness was an important moment.


Furthermore, because mental illness is such a significant contributor to teen suicide, it’s important that parents, teachers, and school administration (essentially the adults in a teen’s life) are aware of the signs that point to mental illness. These can include:


  • Excessive worry and fear
  • Feeling consistently sad or low
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Significant changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Changes in perceiving reality
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in school performance
  • Strong feelings of irritability and/or anger
  • Inability to function in daily life


These are just a few of the signs to look out for mental illness in another person. For a more extensive list, visit NAMI’s website. Furthermore, a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical AssociationPsychiatry indicated that bullies as well as victims are at the highest risk to think about and plan suicide. Depression, suicide, anxiety, substance abuse, and loss of self are dangerous risk factors for teens who have been bullied over a long period of time.


Moore highlighted an incredibly important issue in his acceptance speech. Yet his encouragement for teens to turn away from suicide and towards self-acceptance is a step in the right direction.