According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide each year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States and the second leading cause of death among individuals 10-24 years of age. According to the CDC, suicide is the third most common cause of death among young people, with the total number of annual deaths reaching as high as 4,400. While the number of suicide deaths is alarmingly high, there are an additional 440,000 suicide attempts each year by young people. Additional studied have shown that suicide is strongly linked to bullying and mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Warning signs for teen suicide

Warning signs that a teen might be depressed or suicidal include:

  • Frequently talking about self-harming behavior and suicide, or portraying themselves in a negative light.
  • Distancing themselves emotionally from loved ones.
  • A loss of interest in activities that once brought them joy, such as playing sports, video games and spending time with friends.
  • Unpredictable changes in eating or sleeping habits, often accompanied by neglecting personal hygiene.
  • Desperate attempts to regain lost friends, such as succumbing to peer pressure to engage in unhealthy habits such as drug use.
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves

Seeking help

Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, teenagers who are suicidal can’t see any way of finding relief except through death. Despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal teenagers are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they just can’t see one. As a parent, it is important to not only recognize the warning signs of suicide but to learn how to help your son or daughter seek the appropriate care in a timely manner.

Speak up: The first step to helping your son or daughter is having an open-ended conversation about your feelings and to explain that you have noticed a change in their behavior and mood. It is important to listen, offer help, be optimistic, and provide support It is just as important to not act shocked, argue with them, promise confidentiality, blame yourself or offer ways to fix their problems by giving advice.

Offer help and support: Seek professional help by calling a crisis center and asking for outpatient therapy referrals. Explain to your son or daughter that you can provide support but a professional mental health counselor is needed in order to provide advice and treatment. Once help is established, be proactive in your son or daughter’s treatment and follow-up after each therapy session. Always offer support, listen, encourage positive lifestyle changes, and make a safety plan and remove and potential means of suicide such as firearms, pills, razors, or knives.

Respond quickly to a crisis: When assessing whether your son or daughter is actively suicidal, it is important to determine if they plan, the means to carry out the plan, a time set and an intention to take their own life. It is possible that your son or daughter is having suicidal thoughts but has no plan or intention of attempting suicide. It is also possible that your teenager can have a plan, may or may not have an intention or have the means that is highly lethal and may or may not be threatening to attempt suicide. Sometimes it is difficult to assess the risk in your teenager but if you feel that their risk is imminent you must call a local crisis center, dial 911, or take your teenager to an emergency room. Remove guns, drugs, knives, medications, and other potentially lethal objects from the vicinity but do not, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.