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Suicide Prevention in Children and Teens

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Suicide is the is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and more 15 - 24 year olds died of suicide (9.9%) than of cancer (5.8%) according to the Centers for Disease Control. The difference is that suicide can be prevented.

The two most important things that we can do as parents and as a community are to:

1. Learn risk factors and what to look for.
2. Be that person - the one who is paying attention and cares becomes a literal lifeline.

My personal story, "When Teens Want to Die" is an illustration of how it only takes one person to save a life. But this age group are dealing with number of biological and sociological issues that can make them much more challenging to protect. Understanding gender differences, what to watch for, and risk factors, gives us the ability to be 'that person' - the one who is paying attention and can save a life!

Gender Differences and Precautions

Males more commonly use a firearm to commit suicide.

  • Keep firearms out of the house or at least in secure lock-down off premises

Females commonly use a form of poison.

  • Keep all pills under lock and key. Dispose of potentially lethal chemicals

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your garage

  • Although males complete suicide at much higher rates, females are more likely to have thoughts of suicide than males.

Parents hang on to your sons

An important part of the transition to adulthood is creating autonomy by pulling away and pushing back. But it also makes it far more difficult to know what's going on with them. Parents of teenage boys know how quiet and/or sullen they can get or complain that they barely see them because they stay in their rooms. They become highly skilled at one word answers and because society continues to teach young men to be tough or cool, they become adept at stuffing or has compartmentalizing their feelings. It adds up to making it especially challenging to know when a boy is in a dark place. But it's of the highest importance because males commit nearly 80% of all suicides.

Males take their lives almost 4x the rate females do - committing approximately 77.9% of all suicides.

When struggling, most teens create a self-imposed isolation, act out or exhibit other changes that may be subtle. That's why knowing if s/he's at risk, and knowing what to look for, is all the more important.

What to Watch For

  • Sleeping too little or too much - as compared to their norm

  • Displaying extreme mood swings - as compared to norm

  • Becoming violent or threaten violence

  • Running away or threats to run away

  • Damaging property

  • Giving away personal belongings

  • Making references to death on social media

Any mention of committing suicide are a call to immediately comfort them and seek immediate mental health evaluation.

Teens don't always exhibit changes and mood swings can be a normal part of the teenage brain which has been shown to be more reactive and impulsive. Also because traumatic events are random the teen may be fine one morning and planning suicide later that day. . as in my case, "When Teens Want to Die," I wasn't exhibiting any of the things on that list. One morning I was happy to be alive and by that evening, I desperately wanted to find a way to die. I thought there was something wrong with me and had no idea that I was just a walking risk-factor.

I thought there was something wrong with me... I didn't know that I was a walking risk-factor.

Teen Suicide Risk Factors

Of 17 listed risk-factors, those at the top of my list are:

1. Child abuse or neglect

2. Sexual abuse

3. Domestic violence

4. Bullying

5. Low Self-esteem/self-worth

6. Family history of generational trauma or suicide

7. A recent or serious loss:

  • death of a family member, friend or a pet

  • parental separation or a divorce

  • breakup with a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

8. Lack of security:

  • a parent losing a job

  • or the family losing their home.

9. A psychiatric disorder:

10. Prior suicide attempts:

  • increase the risk for another suicide attempt.

11. Alcohol and other substance use disorders:

  • Inebriation increases risk-taking behaviors and violence.

12. Disciplinary issues and risk-taking behaviors:

  • getting into a lot of trouble is often a cry for help.

13. Struggling with sexual orientation: 

  • in an environment that is not resp