What You Need to Know About Teen Suicide

Information for the Parents of Troubled Teens

Depressed Young Caucasian Man Holding Prescription Medication
Getty Images/PamelaJoeMcFarlane

Of all the possible outcomes of untreated depression, suicide is the most tragic. It has often been called "a permanent solution to a temporary problem." And in the midst of depression, it can begin to look like the only option left.

Why Do People Take Their Own Lives

Depressed people who take their own lives do so because they are enduring unbearable psychological pain and perceive that there are no more options available to them. Physical pain can also trigger suicidal feelings, but the pain of psychological origin can be just as, if not more, intense.

Who Commits Suicide

The primary risk factors that have been identified for suicide include major depression, substance abuse, severe personality disorders, isolation, physical illness, and previous suicide attempts. Chronic pain and illness have also been associated with suicide. Suicide is most prevalent among both the young and the elderly. It is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. 

The Warning Signs You Should Be Looking For

The Suicide Awareness/Voices of Education (SA/VE) website lists the following danger signs:

  • Talking or joking about suicide. Statements about being reunited with a deceased loved one.
  • Statements about hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness. Example: "Life is useless." "Everyone would be better off without me." "It doesn't matter. I won't be around much longer anyway." "I wish I could just disappear."
  • Preoccupation with death. Example: recurrent death themes in music, literature, or drawings. Writing letters or leaving notes referring to death or "the end."
  • Suddenly happier or calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Unusual visiting or calling people one cares about, saying their goodbyes.
  • Giving possessions away, making arrangements, setting one's affairs in order.
  • Self-destructive behavior (alcohol/drug abuse, self-injury or mutilation, promiscuity).
  • Risk-taking behavior (reckless driving/excessive speeding, carelessness around bridges, cliffs, or balconies, or walking in front of traffic).
  • Having several accidents resulting in injury. Close calls or brushes with death.
  • Obsession with guns or knives.

The Treatment for Suicidal Ideation

If your teen is depressed enough to be thinking of suicide, he needs immediate professional help. Do not be afraid to bring up the topic with your teen. Ask questions about his plans. Those who are passively suicidal or have only vague ideas of wanting to die should still be taken very seriously, and arrangements made for them to see a psychiatrist.

If your teen seems in immediate danger of a suicide attempt, call 911 or your local emergency room and ask for assistance. Because medication and therapy take some time to become effective, it may be necessary for your child to be hospitalized for their own protection.

During a crisis situation, do not leave your child alone. Do not minimize their feelings. It is not important that the problem seems trivial or easily solved to you. What counts is how severe the problem seems to them. Do not treat your teen as if they are simply seeking attention. Suicidal behavior is an indication of deep psychological pain. They are asking for your help. Reassure your child that they are not a burden to you and they are not weak. Praise them for having the courage to ask for help.

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