What is Teen Suicide?
Childhood and adolescence carry challenges that can be hard to manage. This time is full of major change, identity questions, pressures to fit in, and bullying. There can sometimes be too much to handle, resulting in feelings of being overwhelmed, depression, and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Teen suicide is where a teen causes their own death on purpose. Before attempting suicide, the person commonly has thoughts of wanting to die (suicidal ideation) and carries out behavior that may cause their own death.
Suicidal thoughts are possible in any age group. Though, rates in young people have increased in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) name suicide as one of the leading causes of death for children and teens aged between 10-14 and 15-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) found it to be the fourth leading cause of death among older adolescents globally. This is due to a number of factors that increase the risk that a young person might develop a mental health disorder during this period of their life.
What Causes Teens to Attempt Suicide?
Teenagers experience major hormonal and physical changes in their bodies during adolescence, making them more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and mental illness. Besides this, there are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of teens committing suicide.
Having an underlying mental health condition is one of the most prevalent risk factors that lead to youth suicides, with some studies suggesting that most people who died by suicide also suffered from some form of poor mental health. Some of these conditions may include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorder
Bullying also plays a huge role in heightening suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Typically aimed at children and teens who do not fit the “norm”, bullying can be targeted towards a wide range of things including a person’s sexuality, physical appearance, disabilities, gender identity, home life, or school performance. The CDC reports that there is a link between bullying and the risk of suicide-related behavior. Adolescents who are bullied and those who bully are both at risk.
Individuals part of the LGBTQIA+ community are four times for likely to try to commit suicide than those who are not. Transgender people are most at risk in this group, with 43% attempting suicide in their lifetime.
Going through family issues is also a huge suicide risk factor, with studies suggesting that family factors may be involved in up to 50% of adolescent suicides. Principal among these factors is a history of suicidal behavior, mental disorders, or substance use disorders among immediate family members.
Other factors that may contribute to the risk of suicide include:
- Racism and discrimination
- Academic pressure to succeed
- Sexual, emotional, or physical abuse
- The end of an intimate relationship: this may be romantic or platonic
- Personality traits: perfectionism, low self-esteem, self-criticism, impulsiveness
- Social media
- The presence of a gun in the home
- Past suicide attempts
- Other stressful life events
Teen Suicide Warning Signs
It is difficult to make an evaluation of another person’s mental health. It can be tough to tell the difference between someone who is frustrated and someone who might be considering suicide. There are multiple warning signs that may give insight into what could be suicidal behavior. Learning about these warnings can prevent attempted suicide and increase the young person’s chance of survival and recovery. Some of the warning signs include:
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Self harming
- Reckless or aggressive behavior
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Feeling bored
- Lack of response to praise
- Dramatic mood changes and angry outbursts
- Frequently talking about worries and fears
- Having difficulties at school
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and usual activities
- Noticeable changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Headaches and stomach aches that appear to have no physical cause
- Frequent nightmares
- Suggesting that others would be better off without them
- Speaking about disappearing or dying
- Increased use or misuse of substances
A teenager displaying some of these signs is not necessarily experiencing suicidal thoughts. However, it is worth considering that they might have another mental health condition. No matter what issue a teen may be facing, resources and professional help are available to tackle it.
There are some signs that a teenager may be in immediate danger and may attempt suicide. These include:
- Wishing loved ones goodbye
- Giving away personal belongings
- Showing calmness after a period of depression
- Purchasing a weapon or stashing away pills
- Making a plan to end their life
- Making declarative statements that they’ll end their life
What to Do If Confronted With a Suicide Attempt?
If you are with someone who has attempted or is about to attempt suicide, contact the emergency services immediately. While you wait, it is important to stay calm in the presence of the person and to remove any objects in reach that they could harm themselves with, such as weapons, pills, or sharp objects.
How to Approach Teen Suicide
Seeing your loved one in crisis can be difficult and terrifying, whether you may be a parent, caregiver, teacher, or friend. However, in this trying time, it is vital to show them support and encouragement. Here are some approaches that can be taken to prevent suicide in teens and encourage them toward a healthier future.
Seek Immediate Professional Help
Involving a mental health professional is crucial to support the young person and can save their life. Experts in this field help young people talk through and understand their difficult emotions. This helps them to build resilience and decreases the occurrence of suicidal behaviors. A professional can also put together a crisis plan for emergency situations, saving vital time if the teen’s life is in danger.
Parents and caregivers can also benefit from professional help to learn how to best support their loved ones and themselves.
Talk with Empathy and Understanding
If you think a teenager might be suicidal, approach them in a calm, empathetic, and understanding way. Aim to encourage them to open up about what they are experiencing.
- Communicate openly and honestly.
- Listen without trying to provide solutions. This will make the person feel heard.
- Remind them that no topic is off-limits.
- Avoid telling them that other people are in worse situations.
Expect your teen to turn away when the subject matter of mental health is brought up. Don’t be disheartened as much of the time actions speak louder than words. Even time spent together without conversation could make an enormous difference to the young person.
Suggest Exercise to Boost Physical Health
Exercise is not a cure for mental health problems but it is important for physical health. If your teen has been behaving in ways that damage their body’s well-being, exercise could be a good idea. This may take the form of going for a walk, playing a sport, or doing some yoga. The person should find an activity they enjoy so that they feel motivated to take part in it. To boost overall wellness, it is recommended that 30-40 minutes of exercise two to five times per week is carried out.
Entering treatment can be a difficult time for a teen, so it’s vital to provide realistic reassurance for them during this stage. Remind the young person that treatment won’t last forever and that it is designed to make them feel better. Due to the societal stigma attached to mental health conditions and undergoing treatment, embarrassment is a common emotion in this situation. You can tell your teen that one in five people can have mental health problems at some point in their lives and that accepting help is a sign of maturity and self-respect.
Remove Deadly Tools and Substances from the House
Lock up any potentially dangerous objects that could be used for suicide attempts. This includes:
- Illicit drugs
- Ropes, belts, or plastic bags
- Sharp objects: knives, razors
- Dangerous chemicals: household cleaners, anti-freeze, inhalants
- Canned dusting products
Encourage Them to See Family and Friends
During difficult times it is easy to slip into social isolation. Quiet time is an important part of recovery, but some gentle encouragement to interact with friends and family will help in the recovery process. To minimize stress, remember that it is still important not to push too hard. Respect the young person’s boundaries.
Treatment to Prevent Teen Suicide
With the right treatment, it is possible to prevent suicide. Professional help can teach teens the tools they need to begin managing their thoughts and emotions.
How Can a Teenager Be Diagnosed As Suicidal?
The first step on the road to recovery from an attempted suicide is a physical and mental health evaluation. Here, mental health professionals will attend to any life-threatening physical problems and address how the treatment should go forward. Many teens with suicidal thoughts also have an underlying mental health condition. Therefore, evaluation can ensure that the recovery plan is tailored to the young person’s needs.
Therapy can be extremely valuable to understand the underlying cause and origin of suicidal thoughts. These might be rooted in another underlying condition that is not yet diagnosed. Once this is identified it can be treated and these thoughts can be relieved.
Approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy can help the teen to identify their triggers. These therapies also allow people to recognize patterns of unhelpful thinking about suicide, and aid them in building coping skills.
Educating family members about the teen’s mental illness and experience can create a more supportive environment. With the right knowledge, family members are able to approach situations with understanding.
Therapy helps people to understand the dynamics within their family unit. It gives them an insight into any unresolved issues in the family history, plus any that are currently occurring. Working on changing any dynamics that cause problems will be beneficial for the teen and everyone else. The presence of the therapist, an unbiased third party, helps families on this journey of discovery.
A stay in an inpatient facility ensures that the person is in a supervised and safe space, decreasing their suicide risk. Hospital stays provide around-the-clock care, ensuring the young person’s physical and mental health needs are met. This environment allows for recovery in a fresh space away from where their negative thoughts and experiences took place, which can be very valuable when building new ways of thinking.
At Feinberg, we understand that suicidal feelings are a difficult subject. This is why our expert staff is trained to help you every step of the way to support you and your loved one to overcome this trying period.
Our crisis intervention can provide the guidance and support needed to help ensure your teen’s safety. If you’re worried there are warning signs your teenager may be thinking of harming themselves in any way, get in touch with us today. We specialize in creating a safe, welcoming, and professional environment for your family to find a solution.
Get in touch today to find out how we can help your teen.