Teen Suicide Warning Signs and Prevention

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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 2017, there were more than 6,200 suicides among teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24, which makes it the second leading cause of death for people in this age group—just after unintentional motor vehicle accidents.

While pre-teen suicide risk tends to be lower, data from the CDC shows that 183 children between the ages of 9 and 12 died by suicide in 2018.

Statistics

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. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found a 47% increase in suicides between the years 2000 and 2017 among people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Why?

Experts aren't sure yet, but theories include:

  • Increased access to guns
  • Increased use of alcohol
  • The influence of Internet social networks, such as Facebook
  • Increased rates of suicide among older teens who have experienced combat or military-related trauma

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. Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29.

Risk Factors

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

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Access to lethal means of suicide
  • A history of self-harm
  • A plan to carry out suicide
  • 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)

LGBTQ youth (and transgender youth in particular) have an elevated risk. The Trevor Project reports that LGB youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Research also shows that 44% of transgender youth had considered suicide in the previous year and 35% had attempted suicide.

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
  • 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.

Prevention

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
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Miron O, Yu KH, Wilf-miron R, Kohane IS. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA. 2019;321(23):2362-2364. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5054

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018, United States suicide injury deaths and rates per 100,000, all races, both sexes, ages 9 to 12.

  3. World Health Organization. Suicide data.

  4. The Trevor Project. Preventing suicide: facts about suicide.

  5. The Trevor Project. Research brief: data on transgender youth. Published February 22, 2019.

Additional Reading
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2014) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC (producer).

  • Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Greydanus DE - Prim Care; 34(2): 259-73.

  • American Association of Suicidology. Suicide Warning Signs Fact Sheet.
  • Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.
  • National Center for Health Statistics. 10 Leading Causes of Death, United States. All Races, Both Sexes.
  • Sullivan et al. Suicide Trends Among Persons Aged 10–24 Years — United States, 1994–2012. MMWR. March 6, 2015 / 64(08);201-205.