Learning to Recognize the Warning Signs for Teen Suicide

Many teen suicides can be prevented if the warning signs are detected and appropriate intervention is conducted.

The Reasons for Teen Suicide

No two teenagers are the same, but there are some common reasons they consider suicide. Many teens that do attempt suicide do so during an acute crisis that is in reaction to some sort of conflict. Conflicts are common amongst teens, but those who attempt suicide are particularly reactive to them because they:

  • Having a long-standing history of problems at home or school
  • Suffer from low self-esteem
  • Believe no one cares
  • Are depressed
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Have experienced other stressful events such as unwanted pregnancy, trouble with the law or not meeting high parental expectations

Signs of Trouble

Research shows that most individuals who attempt suicide have a history of mental illness, making this an extremely important risk factor. The warning signs include:

  • Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Unexplained or unusually severe, violent or rebellious behaviour
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Sexual promiscuity, truancy and vandalism
  • Drastic personality change
  • Agitation, restlessness, distress, or panicky behaviour
  • Talking or writing about committing suicide, even jokingly
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Doing worse in school

How to Help

If you notice any of the above warning signs in your child, you should start taking these steps:

  • Offer help and listen. Do not ignore the problem. What you have noticed in your teen’s behaviour is a way of crying out for help. Offer support, understanding and compassion. Talk about feelings and the behaviours you have seen that cause you to feel concerned. You do not need to solve the problem or give advice, sometimes just caring and listening, and being non-judgemental, gives all the understanding necessary.
  • Take the talk of suicide very seriously, and use the word “suicide”. Talking about suicide does not cause suicide – but avoiding what is on your child’s mind may make him/her feel truly alone and uncared for. Tell the youngster that together you can develop a strategy to make things better. Ask if your child has a plan for suicide, if he or she does, and then seek professional help immediately.
  • Remove lethal weapons from your home. Lock up pills and be aware of the locations of kitchen utensils as well as ropes, which all can be means to commit suicide.
  • Get professional help. A teen at risk of suicide needs professional help. Even when the immediate crisis passes, the risk of suicidal behaviour remains high until new ways of dealing and coping with problems are learned.
  • Do not be afraid to take your child to a hospital emergency room if it is clear that he or she is planning suicide. You may not be able to handle the situation on your own