Teen suicide: Know the warning signs

September 17, 2019 Providence Mental Health Team

Suicide prevention week builds awareness about the power of making connections to prevent suicide. Learn the vital role you can play in your teen’s life when it comes to suicide prevention.

[3 MIN READ]

The following article contains content that may be triggering to some readers. If you or someone you know if struggling, please reach out to the YouthLine at 1(877)968-8491 or text ‘Teen2Teen’ to 893863.

National Suicide Prevention Week is one of many ways to bring awareness to this serious problem.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children age five to 24. Many children who die by suicide have a major mental health condition, which is most commonly depression. While there’s no single cause for suicide, conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide. It’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life.

The good news: Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable. The first step is recognizing the signs and diagnosing the condition that is causing the feelings so appropriate treatment can begin.

Suicide attempts among teens

During the teen years, many things can affect your child’s moods and behavior. Their changing bodies and hormones, family, social and academic pressures and other events can take a toll on a teen’s well-being. Emotional and mental health risk factors for suicide attempts include:

  • Stress
  • Self-doubt
  • Unstable home
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Financial uncertainty at home
  • Disappointment
  • Loss

For some teens who feel a sense of hopelessness and isolation, suicide falsely appears to be the only solution to their problems.

Warning signs of suicide

Here are some warning signs to look for that are associated with suicide:

  • Openly suicidal statements such as "I won't be a problem for you much longer"
  • Constant sadness
  • Withdrawal from loved ones, friends, and activities
  • Fixation on death and dying
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Complaining often about physical symptoms that often relate to emotions, such as headaches and fatigue
  • Poor-quality schoolwork

If you spot any of the above signs, get help by speaking with your doctor who can help with diagnosis and can recommend resources such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Counseling can help them address their feelings and sort through the overwhelming emotions that come with depression or other mental health conditions. If you believe teen is having a crisis, call 9-1-1 right away. You can also reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and peer support via YouthLine, a free and confidential teen-to-teen crisis line. Teens are available to help daily from 4-10pm Pacific Time (adults are available by phone at all other times). Text Teen2Teen 839863.

Self-harm in teens

When teens engage in self-harm, also known as self-injury, it means they’re hurting themselves on purpose. Although cutting themselves with a knife is a common method and more common in girls, any time teens deliberately hurt their bodies — such as burning their skin, pulling their hair or even causing their bones to break — it’s considered self-harm.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) states that self-harm is not a mental illness; instead it’s a way of behaving that shows a need for coping skills. The illnesses associated with it include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD)

This behavior most often happens during the teenage and young adult years. Young people who are most at risk have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse.

[H2] How to help a struggling teen

You may be able to support your teen before she or he gets to a crisis point. The American Psychological Association offers guidelines that can help:

  • Put your teen at ease. Make sure your teen knows you’re there to listen and not judge. You want to offer support — not punish your teen. Try to talk one-on-one regularly, perhaps by having a weekly lunch or outing.
  • Listen. This is an active skill. Let your teen know you want to hear what he or she has to say and that you want to get a perspective from their viewpoint.
  • Be honest. Older kids are usually able to tell when parents are being genuine. As long as you’re open and relaxed, they’ll feel encouraged to do the same.
  • Educate yourself with available resources. Consider a training course on recognizing the signs of suicide offered through Mental Health First Aid.

Connect and communicate 

If you sense or can see that your teen is going through tough times, the most important thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open. That way, you’re helping them feel comfortable about turning to you for help and support.

Looking for more information about helping your child manage stress and their overall health? Talk with a doctor about resources. You can also find a Providence pediatrician by using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Learn more about #suicideprevention and preventing self-harm #endcuttinggirls. Then share your thoughts with other #womenshealth readers @psjh.

Resources

How to help a teen through holiday depression - Part 1

Suicide in Children and Teens

National Suicide Prevention Week

Identifying signs of stress in your children and teens

American Psychological Association

Self-Harm

How to Recognize — and Help —Teens with Depression

Pediatrician's expert parenting tips to help teenagers thrive

 

About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Providence Mental Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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