Teen Suicide: Recognizing the Warning Signs

Article at a Glance

  • Suicide isn’t usually caused by a single factor, but many.
  • Abuse, life changes, and social pressure are all risk factors even for healthy kids.
  • Many signs of depression are easy to write off as moodiness.

Now that we’ve covered teen suicide statistics and risk factors, let’s take a closer look at the warning signs and symptoms that often precipitate an attempt at suicide.

As we’ve discussed, teens are already at an elevated risk of suicide simply because they are in the middle of a volatile developmental stage. On an individual level, these are additional risk factors:

  • Having attempted suicide previously.
  • Having a family history of suicide or depression.
  • Being a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
  • Recently experiencing a life-changing event or trauma.
  • Being exposed to the suicidal behavior of others.
  • Having an acute sense of not fitting in with their peers.
  • Being in chronic pain or suffering a chronic illness.

What should you look for?

Take a good look at your family and your relationship with your teen. Are there any conflicts that are keeping you apart? Is your teen exposed to a lot of criticism at home or elsewhere? Is your teen shouldering stresses or problems beyond his or her maturity level? Does your teen feel isolated?

Be concerned if your teen:

  • Starts to talk a lot about suicide and death.
  • Drops hints about not being around for very long.
  • Isolates him/herself from family and friends.
  • Expresses feelings of guilt or hopelessness.
  • Starts to give away prized possessions to others.
  • No longer wants to take part in favorite activities or loses interest in school.
  • Experiences a change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Starts to engage in risky activities or becomes aggressive.
  • Finds it difficult to concentrate.
  • Has an impulsive personality.
  • Experiences a sharp change in personality.
  • Engages in any form of deliberate self-harm.

What Else Can I Do?

Learn to spot the signs of depression.

We often think of depression as sadness or apathy, but it can also manifest as irritability and anger. Many of the symptoms above are signs of depression that may falsely register as the “teen angst” we are warned to expect of the adolescent years.  If you suspect there’s more going on than just moodiness, talk with your pediatrician.

Get comfortable talking about suicide.

Parents may fear that talking with their teen about suicide might put the idea in their child’s head. But when we consider how much suicide is appearing in the media, the news, and in our own schools, we have to accept that the conversation is happening with or without us. Having an open discussion is the best way to lay the foundation of trust in us our children will need to have in us if they are ever going to reach out for our help.

Bringing suicide out of the dark in our culture and our homes is an important step. Even if your child never considers suicide, it’s statistically likely that suicide will happen in their peer group. Knowing they can turn to you to talk, get help for a friend, or process grief could make all the difference in their life or the life of a friend.

Next in our series: What to do and how to help if your teen is at risk of suicide.

More resources:

Mental Health & Teens: Watch for the Danger Signs

Childhood Depression: What Parents Can Do To Help

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