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Preventing Adolescent Suicide: What You Can Do
Facing Challenging Times
- Academic pressures and overburdened school systems
- Social demands to find acceptance among peers, to be attractive, or to date
- Divorce, single-parent homes, or other instability in the home, such as abuse or violence
- Body image issues, which may fuel eating disorders
- Negative peer pressure or bullying
- Exposure to violence outside the home, alcohol, and drugs
- Confusion and shame about sexual identity or orientation
Looking at the Risk Factors
- Previously attempting suicide
- Having depression
- Abusing drugs
- Having conduct disorder
- Having a disruptive and non-supportive family situation
- Experiencing relationship problems with a significant person
- Bullying by peers
- Having poor coping skills
- Having other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder
- Taking antidepressants
- Having conflicted feelings about sexual orientation—The risk may be increased if the teen experiences social rejection or bullying because of sexual orientation.
- Having a family member, especially a parent, who has committed suicide
- Recent death of a loved one
- Chronic physical illness
- Early loss
- School failure
- Anniversary of a past loss or major life event
- Perfectionism and overachievement
Being Aware of the Warning Signs
- Talking about death or dying
- Experiencing a change in appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
- Experiencing a change in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping more or less than usual
- Withdrawing from people they care about
- Abusing alcohol and drugs
- Becoming violent or rebellious
- Running away from home
- Getting arrested or having other problems with the law
- Ignoring personal hygiene and appearance
- Feeling very bored, having a hard time concentrating, and doing poorly in school
- Acting in a way that is unlike their usual personality
- Having a lot of health complaints without physical cause, such as headaches, abdominal pain, or fatigue
- No longer being interested in hobbies or other activities they used to enjoy
- Talk about being a bad person or feel terrible about himself.
- Say things like “I won’t be a problem much longer,” “You’ll never see me again,” or “There’s no use”.
- Note: If a teen makes comments about killing himself, always take these threats seriously.
- Give away treasured belongings.
- Have symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or bizarre thoughts.
- A mental health therapist who specializes in working with teens—Working with an experienced therapist is crucial because the teen may have another condition that needs to be treated, like depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse.
- A doctor or take the teen to the emergency room—In serious cases, the teen may need to be hospitalized.
- A crisis hotline, such as 1-800-273-TALK
Building Teen Support
- Providing a stable environment that is both physically and emotionally safe
- Spending regular quality time and having fun together
- Listening to and really trying to understand what the youth is saying and feeling, without interrupting or trying to solve problems
- Showing support and respect by allowing the teen to share thoughts in a safe environment
- Encouraging the teen to express emotions, both positive and negative, in a healthy manner, by your own example
Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Youth Suicide Prevention Program http://www.yspp.org
Canadian Mental Health Association http://www.ontario.cmha.ca
Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org
About teen suicide. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/suicide.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Child and adolescent suicide. Mental Health American website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/child-and-adolescent-suicide. Accessed March 6, 2014.
How to help. Youth Suicide Prevention Program website. Available at: http://www.yspp.org/about%5Fsuicide/what%5Fto%5Fdo.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Suicide. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your%5Fmind/feeling%5Fsad/suicide.html. Updated November 2011. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Teen suicide. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families%5Fand%5FYouth/Facts%5Ffor%5FFamilies/Facts%5Ffor%5FFamilies%5FPages/Teen%5FSuicide%5F10.aspx. Updated July 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Teenage suicide. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Teenage%5FSuicide.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.
3/17/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: van Geel A, Vedder P, et al. Relationship between peer victimization, cyberbullying, and suicide in children and adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 10, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 03/2014
- Update Date: 03/17/2014