When it comes to teen suicide, there is no such thing as being too cautious, too concerned, or too vigilant. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 2 million adolescents in the U.S. attempt suicide each year and 2,000 succeed. With an estimated 2.6% of students exhibiting suicidal behavior that required treatment from a doctor or nurse, it is very important that parents, educators, and others take any threat of suicide seriously.
As any parent knows, the teen years are full of changes, struggle, confusion, pressure, and stress. And that is under normal circumstances. When the normal challenges of the teenage years are exacerbated by other circumstances like being bullied, parents who are divorcing, having to move, or a mental illness, teenagers can see suicide as a way to solve their problems. The good news is that treatment can be very effective at alleviating these thoughts.
The key to helping your teen is to know what the signs are, recognize the signs, and get help. Here are 7 of the signs that your teen may be having suicidal thoughts.
1. Suicidal Talk
One of the hallmarks of someone who is contemplating suicide is that they will talk about it openly. Be alert for suicidal statements or a sudden preoccupation with death or dying. Suicidal talk can also include making statements about being a bad friend, being a bad person, or other negative self-talk that revolves around how much better others would be if they were gone. Suicidal talk may also be more subtle, consisting of defeatist statements like “nothing matters,” “soon it will all be over,” and “I won’t cause problems for other people for long.”
2. Saying Goodbye/Letting Go
Another sign that someone may be thinking about suicide is that they start letting go of their life and saving goodbye to loved ones. This can manifest as giving away treasured belongings, pulling away from friends and family, or seeming to put things in order by cleaning their room and telling loved ones how they feel about them.
3. Ceasing to Care
Ceasing to care about things like personal appearance, recognition, or anything at all can also be a warning sign that suicidal thoughts are present. If your teenager suddenly stops caring about their physical appearance or hygiene or seems locked in a place of sadness where they feel worthless, guilty, or irritable, or becomes completely indifferent to everything good or bad in their life, they may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.
4. Acting Out
When teenagers act out, expressing aggressive or hostile behavior towards others and participating in risky behavior, it may be a warning sign that they are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Pay attention to things like running away from home, driving recklessly, participating in self-harm, or engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior.
5. Significant Personality or Behavior Changes
While many teenagers experience rapid changes in their behavior or personality as a normal part of adolescence, these changes can also be a sign of suicidal thoughts. If someone experiences an extreme personality shift, a significant change in lifestyle habits like eating or sleeping, or shows symptoms of depression or other mental health conditions, they may be experiencing or at risk for suicidal thoughts.
6. Risk Factors
In addition to the signs above, parents should be aware that there are some factors that may increase the risk for suicidal thoughts. These risk factors include:
- Mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and problems with substance abuse
- A parent or family member with a mental health condition
- A parent or other family member dealing with substance abuse
- A previous attempt at suicide
- Having someone in their life like a friend, family member, or role model who recently committed suicide
- A history of sexual abuse or growing up in an abusive environment
- Participating in self-harm behavior
7. Triggering Events
In addition to the signs and risk factors listed above, parents need to be aware that there are some events that have been associated with an increased risk of suicide. These triggering events include the loss of a parent or other family member, divorce, substance abuse, experiencing a major disappointment, dealing with a chronic illness, struggling with sexual identity or orientation, being bullied, and experiencing problems at school.
- Parenting Primer: Suicide Prevention (doorwaysarizona.com)
- Preventing Teen Suicide: What Parents Need to Know (doorwaysarizona.com)
- Helping Teens Deal With Death (doorwaysarizona.com)