Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people aged 12-18. Only accidents come in ahead of suicide at robbing young lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Some 12 teenagers commit suicide each day which comes to around 5,000 teenage suicides every year. Of those 5,000 teen suicides, 84% are young men.
Just like with adults, more teens try to commit suicide than actually succeed. For every teen suicide you hear about, some 25 suicide attempts have been made. Young girls have a higher rate of suicide attempts but more young men succeed.
After being on the decline in the 80’s and 90’s, the number of teen suicides is sharply rising. Teen suicides, as of 2015, now account for 13% of all U.S. suicides. Teenage girls have the steepest rise in suicide rates, that rate having tripled over the past 15 years.
The causes of teen suicide may be psychological, environmental, or social. Mental illness such as clinical depression is an example of a psychological cause of suicide. Suicide as a way to escape an abusive home environment would an environmental cause of suicide. A lack of friends or social life, meanwhile, could be a social motivation for suicide. Mental illness is the leading cause of teen suicide.
If you have a teenager, you know that teens are emotional. Teens experience emotions and issues more deeply. That means their stress levels are higher, too.
Here are some stress factors that might cause a teenager to think about suicide:
- Violence in the home
- Death of a friend or relative
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Being bullied in person or online
- Humiliation and frustration due to sexual development or orientation
- Academic failure
- Conflict in a romantic relationship
- Conflict with a parent
Sometimes, just trying to understand how the world works can seem overwhelming and confusing to a teen. Add out-of-control hormones to the picture and it’s easy to see why some teens try suicide. They’re looking for a way out of their problems.
As a parent, you want to keep your child safe. Ensuring your child’s safety begins with recognizing the causes and factors that put your child at risk for suicide. If your child has risk factors for suicide, you’ll want to take preventive measures to protect your child.
Teen Suicide Risk Factors
Having risk factors for suicide doesn’t mean your child will try to commit suicide. It does mean that his risk for attempting suicide may be higher than for some other teens. It’s also important to know that some risk factors are things you can fix while others are not.
You may be able to lower your child’s stress levels, for instance, by giving him fewer chores. A family history of suicide, on the other hand, is something you cannot change. While a parent may not be able to take away all of a teen’s risk factors for suicide, it’s still possible to take many steps to keep your teenager safe.
Here are some common risk factors for teen suicide that parents should view as very serious:
- Past suicide attempt(s)
- Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, for instance
- Physical illness
- Family suicide history
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Feeling hopeless
- Problems with impulse control
- Acts out, aggressive
- Loss of income/has financial problems
- Social issues
- Loss of or lack of social network, isolation
- Loss of relationship
- Ease of access to suicide methods/means
- Knows someone who committed suicide
Teen Suicide Protective Factors
Protective factors can serve to cancel out risk factors to lower your teen’s risk for suicide:
- Easy access to treatment for physical, mental, and drug and alcohol abuse disorders
- Limited access to methods and items that could be used to commit suicide
- Unconditional support from family, friends, and community
- Good relationships with and easy access to physical and mental health care professionals and personnel
- Skills in problem-solving and in non-violent conflict-resolution
- Strong household or personal religious and/or cultural beliefs that discourage suicide
Depression and Teen Suicide
When we speak of depression and teen suicide, we’re not talking about passing moods. Anyone can feel blue from time to time. But clinical depression is different. It lasts longer than a few days and the signs and symptoms can be severe. If you suspect your child is suffering from depression, it’s important to see a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Depression is diagnosed when there are at least five of these symptoms present:
- Feels sad, or irritable and angry, most of the time
- A loss of interest in day-to-day activities
- A loss of or increase in appetite, noticeable weight loss or gain
- Has trouble sleeping or sleeps too much
- Feels nervous and revved up or listless
- Is tired all the time, has no energy
- Feels worthless or guilty without cause
- Can’t concentrate, is indecisiveness
- Thinks about or talks about death and dying and suicide. May have a suicide plan.
Preventive Measures and Teen Suicide
Parents of teens at risk for suicide should make the effort to limit the teen’s access to items that can be used to commit suicide. If you own a gun, make sure it remains locked away. Other items that should be kept away from teens at risk for suicide are ropes, knives, pipes, and medication.
There’s a belief that people who seriously want to commit suicide, tend to just go ahead and do it, rather than merely threaten to commit suicide. Even so, parents should take any talk about or threat of suicide as if it were the real deal and treat it as a true emergency. If a teenager talks about killing him or herself, contact a mental health care professional immediately. Not sure whom to contact? Begin with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).