Youth Suicide: Risk Factors, Warning Signs, and Prevention

Suicide has become increasingly common among adolescents and young adults, making it one of the leading causes of death among young people. The thought strikes fear into the hearts of parents. Not only does suicide cause the loss of a child but it also means that the child was suffering intensely. The vast majority of people who commit suicide do show some warning signs beforehand. Knowing the risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs of youth suicide can help you prevent it. Read on for information on the causes and signs of youth suicide as well as ways that you can help prevent your teen or other loved ones from attempting or completing suicide.


Risk Factors of Youth Suicide

While anyone can succumb to suicide, there are some risk factors that make it more likely. Keep in mind that if your teen has any of these factors, it does not mean that they will attempt suicide. It only means that they might be at a higher risk and that you should be vigilant of the warning signs so you can act quickly.

  • Personal History Factors A history of previous suicide attempts, previous abuse or trauma, or previous mental health conditions can raise the risk that your teen will attempt suicide.
  • Family History Factors A family history of depression, suicide attempts, drug addiction, or other mental health issues can raise the risk.
  • Depression  Depression is a leading cause of suicide. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression so you can seek treatment before it turns into a crisis situation.
  • Isolation – Teens and young people who isolate themselves might be more likely to attempt suicide than those who have good community connections and support.
  • Local Epidemic of Suicide – Unfortunately, suicide is “contagious” in the sense that if one or more young people do it, others in the same community or high school might decide it’s a viable option. Talk to your teen openly if there have been suicides among his or her peer group.
  • Recent Loss  A death in the family, a parental divorce, or even an unwanted relocation could be a risk factor for suicide.
  • Access to a Gun – Most suicides are completed with firearms. Having access to guns allows for a quick decision and a quick death. Be sure that you keep guns locked up, even if your youngest child is a teenager.
  • No Access to Mental Health Treatment – From financial concerns to a lack of facilities in your area to barriers stemming from a perceived stigma surrounding mental health conditions, a lack of mental health treatment can be a risk factor for suicide.


Protective Factors Against Youth Suicide

The good news is that there are some protective factors that can downplay the risk factors when it comes to suicide. The following can help any young person, especially those who might have some of the risk factors listed above.

  • Family Support – Knowing that they have caring family surrounding them can protect a teen from suicide.
  • Friends and Community Support  Having plenty of community support and some good friends let a teen know that they’re not alone and can prevent the isolation that could lead to suicide.
  • Mental Health Treatment  Prompt treatment for depression, anxiety, and other conditions can help prevent suicide.
  • Certain Religious Beliefs – If suicide is clearly against one’s religion, they might be more likely to reach out for help and seek other options.


Warning Signs of Youth Suicide

Most young people who end up committing suicide do show warning signs first. If you notice any of the following signs, take prompt action and seek the proper care for your adolescent.

  • Talking About Suicide and Death  An obsession with death, dying, suicide, or weapons could be a warning sign that a teen is considering ending his or her life. Another sign is saying things like, “I won’t be a burden much longer,” or “everything would be better if I were gone.”
  • Suicide Attempts – For every completed suicide, it’s estimated that 25 are attempted. The vast majority of attempts don’t result in suicide but are a cry for help. The next attempt might be successful, however.
  • Talking About Hopelessness or Worthlessness  Someone who is feeling suicidal likely also feels that things will never get better and that they are unloved and worthless. A teen talking about these feelings should be evaluated for suicidal ideation.
  • Risky Behavior  Participating in behaviors that could lead to death such as racing cars on the highway or jumping off of a roof could be a sign of suicide.
  • Alcohol or Drug Use  Many young people attempt to self-medicate their feelings of despair and hopelessness with alcohol or drug use before deciding to attempt suicide.
  • Apathy; Losing Interest – If your teen is suddenly disinterested in sports, school, friends, a romantic interest, and favorite hobbies, take it as a sign that there is something serious going on that needs to be investigated.
  • Giving Away Possessions  A suicidal teen might give away prized possessions such as trophies, sentimental items, or expensive electronics.
  • Putting Affairs in Order – Contacting relatives to say goodbye or trying to settle old arguments can be signs that suicide is being contemplated.


What You Can Do to Prevent Youth Suicide

There are steps that you, as a parent, can take to prevent youth suicide. Keep in mind that if your teen is in immediate danger, you should call 911 or get him or her to the nearest emergency room. If there is not an immediate danger, consider these steps.

  1. Talk About Suicide  Talking about suicide with your teen can help you determine whether they are considering it.
  2. Take Warning Signs Seriously  Don’t write off warning signs as attention-seeking behavior. Keep the conversation open and don’t be afraid to seek help.
  3. Seek Mental Health Treatment – Make an appointment with a counselor or your child’s primary care doctor to pursue the right treatment, if needed.
  4. Remove Weapons – If you think that your adolescent might be suicidal, be sure that he or she does not have access to pills, guns, or anything else that could be used as a weapon.

If you have questions about how you can prevent youth suicide or if you are worried about yourself or a loved one, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or get in touch with a mental health professional for information and advice.