Adolescent Suicide Prevention

It’s important to know…

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds, following unintentional injuries and homicide. In fact, many accidental youth deaths are believed to be the result of suicidal impulse.

Talking to a teen about suicide will not put a new idea into his or her  head. For too many students, suicide is already something they’ve considered. As a friend, parent or caring adult, you can be one of the most important people in their lives. It is possible for you to direct changes that will make suicide an unlikely choice for your students and friends.

Suicide is NOT about death

People who are suicidal suffer from overwhelming feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and/or worthlessness. They feel there is no hope that they will ever find help or relief from their feelings.

Young people who think about suicide don’t want to die; they want to find an end to the incredible emotional turmoil and pain they feel. Adults all too often dismiss a young person’s worries assuming that they are minor, temporary problems that in time will pass. Teens don’t have this “short-term” perspective on life; instead, they perceive the unhappiness they feel as permanent.

Teens are sometimes unable to think that anyone can help or that alternatives and choices are possible. There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

What to look for

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “Suicidal Checklist” to consult. However, there are key warning signals that may indicate suicidal ideations:

  • previous suicide attempt
  • risk-taking behaviors or acts of self harm
  • low self-esteem or social isolation
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • changes in usual behavior or activities
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • recent suicide of a friend or family member
  • traumatic loss or event

How you CAN help

Listen. Be open and willing to hear what is being said. Asking genuine questions will help move the conversation along. Avoid giving advice, making judgments, and offering your solution for the problem.

Remember to:

  • Trust yourself; if things seem wrong, they probably are
  • Ask specifically about actions or talk that you find troublesome
  • Express your concerns, refrain from sounding judgmental

Don’t give up if the teen tries to shrug you off. Many times young people need to be convinced that your concern is genuine before they’ll open up and talk about how they feel.

Listen for the feelings behind the words. Be alert for phrases like ‘I’d rather die than…” or “Doesn’t it ever get better?” or “Things would just be better if I weren’t around.”

Once you determine there is a risk of suicide, ASK DIRECTLY “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” This will NOT put the idea in their head; their signals have already alerted you. Asking this difficult question will open the door for them to talk and will give you the chance to help.

What to do

If a teen does acknowledge thoughts of suicide to you, the answer will no doubt be unsettling. It is critical that you remain calm. Treat their feelings with genuine concern, take them seriously, and be open to hearing them out.

Try to determine the magnitude and lethality of their suicide plan (how, when, and where they plan to attempt suicide). The more lethal AND available the means, and the more specific the time frame, the greater the risk. A simple equation is:

Danger + Availability + Time Frame = Risk

If the youth isn’t open to talking with you about their feelings, help them identify someone they can talk with like a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent, neighbor, pastor, friend, school counselor, therapist, co-worker; anybody that might help them feel more comfortable and safe talking about their desperate feelings.

Check out the Resources section for links to sites that might be helpful.

Suicide is preventable.
CAN help a young person struggling with thoughts of suicide.