Teen Suicide Warning Signs and Prevention

Teenager sitting on steps with her head on her knees
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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people.If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in older children and teens.

In fact, in 2014, at least 2,145 teenagers died from suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for teens—just after unintentional injuries. Surprisingly, cancer and heart disease came in at a more distant number four and five, with about 800 and 350 deaths each.

Even for preteens, children aged 9 to 12 years old, suicide is a leading cause of death, ranking as the fourth leading cause of death in 2014 with 117 suicide deaths.


Unfortunately, statistics show that suicide rates in teenagers are on the rise.

After a trend of decreasing suicide rates from 1996 to 2007, teen suicide rates have been slowing increasing again.


Experts aren't sure yet, but theories include:

  • increase access to guns
  • increase use of alcohol
  • the influence of Internet social networks, such as Facebook
  • increased rates of suicide among older teens who are serving in, or returning from Iraq

Another leading theory is that the rise in teen suicides may be because fewer teens are being treated with antidepressants when they have depression. This follows the 2003 FDA warning about antidepressants and suicide. However, since untreated depression is itself a risk factor for suicide, fewer teens taking antidepressants could have the unintended effect of leading to more suicides.

Worldwide, about 90,000 teens commit suicide each year, with about four million suicide attempts. That means that one teenager dies from suicide about every five minutes.

Risk Factors

In addition to untreated depression, other suicide risk factors include:

  • mood disorders
  • chronic anxiety
  • previous suicide attempts
  • genetics—family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions
  • conduct disorder
  • child abuse
  • sexual assault
  • stressful events, including relationship breakups, family problems, etc.
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • eating disorders
  • being bullied
  • dropping out of school
  • taking certain medications, including antidepressants, Strattera (atomoxetine), a medication for ADHD, and Accutane (isotretinoin), which is used to treat teens with severe nodulocystic acne, and antiseizure drugs, such as Tegretol (carbamazepine), Depakote (valproate), and Lamictal (lamotrigine)

Suicide is also more common in bisexual and homosexual teens.

Warning Signs

According to the American Association of Suicidology, the warning signs of suicide can include:

  • having thoughts of committing suicide, threatening to hurt himself, looking for a way to hurt himself, writing about dying, and other types of suicidal ideation
  • increased substance abuse, including abuse of alcohol and drugs
  • feelings of purposelessness or that they have no reason to live
  • anxiety symptoms
  • feeling trapped like there is no way out of current situations or problems
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • a withdrawal from friends and family and usual activities
  • feeling uncontrolled anger and rage or wanting revenge against someone
  • acting reckless and impulsive
  • having dramatic mood changes

If you think that your teen has any of the warning signs for suicide, don't ignore them. Trust your instincts and either try to get more information or seek additional help.


In addition to all of the teens who successfully commit suicide, there are many more who attempt suicide.

Experts estimate that 20 to 25% of teens admit to thinking about suicide at some time in their lives and for every suicide, there are between 5 to 45 suicide attempts.

That makes it even more important for parents, pediatricians, and everyone else that is regularly around teenagers to understand how to try and prevent suicides, such as:

  • recognizing the risk factors and warning signs for suicide
  • calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need advice on talking to your teen who you think may have suicide warning signs
  • seeking professional help, such as your pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, a psychiatric hospital, or emergency room if you think your child is going to hurt himself
  • making sure that guns and medications aren't easily available in your home if your teen might be suicidal
  • getting teens professional help if they have depression and/or anxiety, which are often thought to be the biggest risk factors for suicide

You should also make sure that your kids know that they can ask for help if they ever think about hurting themselves, including calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, calling their doctor, calling 911, or going to a local crisis center or the emergency room.

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Article Sources
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