eenagers are passionate and emotional. For most teens,
intense feelings—of either joy or pain—usually pass quickly.
While many teens have these emotional ups and downs,
for some, the downs can be fatal. Sadly, every year in the United States,
thousands of teenagers are unable to deal with these feelings and commit
Teen Suicide in America
Suicide is one of the 3 leading causes of death for
13- to 19-year-olds.
Many teenagers who attempt or commit suicide have
Depression or other mood disorder
Drug or alcohol abuse
Being overly anxious
Often, these teens have had problems for some time
and can be very good at hiding these problems. This is why family and friends
are shocked when suicide occurs.
How Does It Happen?
Suicide is often triggered by some small,
everyday event, such as:
Getting in trouble.
Arguing with a parent, boyfriend, or
Receiving a bad grade on a test.
Not making the team.
Though many suicidal teens think about
suicide on and off, most teens do not spend much time planning how to
Teenagers often attempt suicide within a few
hours after deciding to do so.
Suicide is thought of as the only way
Teenagers who try to kill themselves see it as
the only way to escape their emotional pain. They want the pain and
suffering to stop.
Myths and Facts
MYTH: "You would think one of her friends would
have known about her problems. At the very least, someone in her family should
have noticed that she was depressed before she killed herself."
FACT: Teens are often very good at hiding their problems.
People around them may not know they are depressed. Adults usually seem
depressed and stay depressed for a while. Depressed teens may seem happy for
much of the time. Parents are sometimes the last to know. Friends may have a
sense that things are not right, but not know how to help.
MYTH: "I heard him talk about killing himself. But
people who talk about suicide do not do it."
FACT: Talk of suicide or wanting to die should never be
ignored. Teens who talk about suicide or wanting to die are much more likely to
kill themselves than those who do not.
MYTH: "If she really wanted to
kill herself, she would have done something more deadly."
FACT: A suicide attempt that does not end in death the
first time may be followed by one that does. Sometimes teens don't know
how many pills are enough to be fatal. What is considered a
"gesture" may be a miscalculation. All suicide attempts need to be
MYTH: "He's just doing it to get
FACT: This is true at times, but the attempt can still be
deadly. If the suicide attempt is a call for attention, it needs to be
Warning Signs for Suicide
In addition to talking or writing about suicide or
death, some other warning signs to watch out for are:
Change in activities
A drop in grades, neglect of personal appearance
or responsibilities, or losing interest in things that used to be fun.
Change in emotions
Appearing sad, hopeless, bored, overwhelmed,
anxious, worried, irritable, or very angry. While this may sound like many
teenagers, changes that make you worried could be very serious.
Getting in trouble
Acting rebellious, aggressive, or overly
impulsive; running away or withdrawing from friends or family.
Confusion about sexual feelings and
Teenagers who think they may be gay, lesbian,
bisexual, or transgender are at an especially high risk for suicide.
Changes in behaviors or
Some teens may become very depressed, withdraw
from old friends, hang out with a different group, or want to be alone all
the time. Some others may withdraw and listen to music or write. Others may
stay up until the early morning and then stay in bed much of the day.
Use of drugs or alcohol
For depressed teens, drugs or alcohol can be
Preventing Teen Suicide
In an emergency
If you are concerned about an immediate risk of
harm, take the teen to a hospital emergency room. Even if you are not sure,
the hospital staff is trained to figure out if someone is serious about
suicide. Talk with a doctor about treatment and an evaluation by a mental
If you think suicide is
If you notice that someone is "in
trouble" or feels very negative, listen to the whole story and try
not to judge. Show that you care and are always ready to listen.
Talk with teens. This is harder than it sounds.
It is important to just listen and not offer suggestions on how to
"fix" problems or seem like you are judging in some way. Ask
teens what is bothering them and whether they have been feeling sad or down.
Ask whether they have ever thought of suicide or not wanting to live
anymore. Asking will not make someone attempt suicide—it may actually
Try to be understanding if teens are "in
trouble" or feel very badly about themselves. Let them know that
whatever trouble they are in at the moment, you have faith in who they are
and their future.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender
Teenagers questioning their sexual identity are
at an especially high risk for suicide. Listen, be supportive, and get them
help. Every teenager needs to know that life is better than death.
If you know of a teen
struggling with this and fear there is a risk for suicide, there are local,
state, and national resources that can provide information and advice.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), at 202/467-8180
or www.pflag.org, can help connect teens with resources.
How other teens can help.
Talk with teens and let them know that if any of
their friends talk about suicide, they need to get help from an adult right
away! This may be a matter of life and death and is too much for even a
close friend to handle alone. Let them know that even if they have been
"sworn to secrecy" by a friend, telling—no matter how
wrong it feels—is better than having to live with a friend's
When you're concerned about mental
Depression or other mental health problems can
come on suddenly or be present on and off for most of a teen's life.
If you are worried, talk with someone, like your pediatrician, a school
counselor, a mental health professional, or a suicide prevention hot
The good news is that
treatments—medications and therapy—are available. They make a
Homes with Guns
Remove all guns from the
The risk of teen suicide is 4 to 10 times higher
in homes with guns than in homes without. Studies have shown that even in
homes where the guns are locked up, teens are much more likely to kill
themselves than in homes without guns.
Guns can turn a moment of despair into a
Teenagers who attempt suicide with a gun are
more likely to succeed in killing themselves than those who attempt suicide
in many other ways.
When teenagers attempt suicide without using a
gun, many can recover with therapy. If a gun is used, they will never get