Suicidal Behavior Ages 13-18
Suicide is never normal.
Suicide is never a rational way to solve a problem.
Suicide never involves only the victim.
Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents. The incidence of suicide attempts reaches a peak during the mid-adolescent years, and mortality from suicide, which increases steadily through the teens, is the third leading cause of death in adolescence.
Suicide is exceedingly rare before puberty, but becomes increasingly frequent through adolescence. The overwhelming proportion of adolescents who commit suicide (over 90 percent) suffered from a psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Over half had suffered from a psychiatric disorder for at least two years.
Suicide happens when someone acts on thoughts about ending his or her life because he or she can no longer cope with very severe emotional pain, intensely hurtful feelings, or an extremely stressful personal situation.
Suicidality is linked to many illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. However, it is not mental illness that causes someone to become suicidal. It is the combination of mental illness, severe stress, psychological pain, and other factors.
Those with serious mental illness are at much higher risk of suicide than those who do not have these conditions. Studies show that up to 90% of those who complete suicide may have had a diagnosable mental illness.
Having a mental illness does not automatically mean that a person will become suicidal. Very few people with mental illness complete suicide, and most never even make an attempt.
The following are warning signs of suicidality in teens.
- Threatening to complete suicide or harm him/herself in some way
- Having a plan for completing suicide
- Acquiring the means to complete suicide (e.g., stockpiling pills, taking possession of a gun, etc.)
- Rehearsing the act of suicide
- Having feelings of hopelessness
- Talking about, writing about, or drawing about death
- Withdrawing from social activities, ties, or relationships
- Losing interest in normal pleasurable activities, and everyday activities
- Giving away important personal items
- Undergoing significant changes in personality and mood
A teen who is contemplating suicide may also:
- Complain of being “rotten inside”
- Give verbal hints with statements such as: “I won’t be a problem for you much longer” “nothing matters” “it’s no use” or “I won’t see you again”
- Put his or her affairs in order–for example, give away personal possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings etc…
- Become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
Risk Factors include:
- A previous suicide attempt (regardless of how serious)
- Experiencing a serious loss (e.g., a personal relationship, a job, the death of somebody very close, etc.)
- A family history of suicide
- A history of being abused, being abusive, or family violence
- A severe depressive episode
- Suffering from long-term depression or another serious mental illness
- Having a dual diagnosis (i.e., a mental disorder and substance abuse)
- Using/abusing alcohol or drugs
- A severe disabling and/or chronic illness and/or severe pain
- Being arrested or imprisoned
These risk factors can not predict the suicide of any specific individual. They help determine suicide risk. Screening for risk factors helps to determine if you are in a high-risk group.
Some Myths About Suicide
What are some do’s and don’t’s about helping when someone is suicidal?
- Do take any suicide threat very seriously.
- Do say that you are there to help.
- Don’t let the individual be alone or go off alone.
- Do remove potential means from the area.
- Don’t be confrontational in speech or body language.
- Do move slowly and make normal eye contact.
- Do be caring and don’t be judgmental.
- Don’t minimize her/his reason for wanting to die.
- Do let her/him have some space.
- Do say that help is available.
- Don’t forget to call 9-1-1.
- Don’t believe “I’m okay now.”
Certain events, or “triggers,” may bring about suicidal behavior. They are things that happen to a person either personally, socially, or at work. They may push someone who is already at risk due to a psychiatric condition, personal coping style, or accumulation of stressful events to attempt suicide. These include:
- The break up of a close relationship, leaving old friends, or personal conflicts.
- Drug or alcohol abuse.
- Financial stressors.
- Recent interpersonal losses, the suicide of a friend or family member. Loss of self-esteem/status, humiliation, rejection (e.g., not getting a job).
- Physical illness, disability.
- Facing arrest, trial, imprisonment or other legal difficulty.
Triggers can start a downward spiral of bad feelings that can get progressively worse. Triggers must be recognized and responded to in an appropriate and timely manner.
Especially for Parents
If a child or adolescent says, I want to kill myself, or I’m going to commit suicide, always take the statement seriously and immediately seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. People often feel uncomfortable talking about death. However, asking the child or adolescent whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Rather than putting thoughts in the child’s head, such a question will provide assurance that somebody cares and will give the young person the chance to talk about problems.
If one or more of these signs occurs, parents need to talk to their child about their concerns and seek professional help when the concerns persist. With support from family and professional treatment, children and teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to a more healthy path of development.
(This information is made available by the Montgomery County Emergency Services, Inc. “What Everyone Needs to Know About Suicide Prevention”)
For further information on suicidal behavior and prevention, please see the following resources:
- Save: Suicide Prevention Information, Suicide, Depression Awareness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention