Young people go through a lot of changes during their teen years. Emotionally, socially and hormonally things can feel extremely turbulent and for some, things can seem unmanageable. Peer pressure, social media, and a desire to fit in can all put a serious amount of strain on kids as they navigate their youth.
Whether a teenager has a diagnosed mental health condition or not, they could still be at risk of developing suicidal thoughts and ideation.
For anyone going through a mental health crisis, it can be extremely scary, lonely, and isolating. Witnessing this as a parent, friend or teacher can incur all of these feelings too. It can be complex to differentiate between low mood or hormonal changes, and something more serious such as depression or suicidal behavior.
Here we look at some warning signs of teen suicide. If you are concerned about a young person in your life, get in touch with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Some people may feel as though they don’t want to interfere or they are unsure how to help, but seeking expert advice can save a life.
What Causes Young People to Attempt Suicide?
Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have found that in the United States suicide is the second leading cause of death in children aged 10 – 14 and the third leading cause of death in teenagers aged 15-19. On a global scale, suicide is the fourth highest cause of death in adolescents aged 15-19. These are devastating statistics, suicide affects not only the family but the friends, school peers, teachers, and community around the young person.
Going through the adjustments of adolescence can be challenging. Young people go through big changes within their bodies, minds, emotions, and their beliefs about the world. This can cause them to feel distressed, frightened, and alone. These can be confounded by some other big developments which we look at below.
Challenges of Adolescence
- Family breakdown, divorce, or movement
- Problems with friends
- Difficulty at school
- Death of a loved one or friend
- Worrying global events
- Pressure to conform
- Worries about image or appearance
The combination of these experiences can feel so overwhelming for some young people, they feel that suicide is the only option. We look at some of these risk factors in a little more detail below:
Pre-existing Mental Illness
Studies suggest that overall, around 90% of people who die by suicide have experienced at least one mental health disorder.
Living with any untreated disorder is likely to decrease the overall well-being of a young person. The following mental health conditions are found to be linked:
- Personality disorders; bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder
- Eating disorders; anorexia, bulimia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
Social Pressure and Challenges
Many young people experience bullying, peer pressure, and loneliness due to being left out of groups and cliques. Unfortunately, sometimes the repercussions of this can lead to teen suicide. In many cases, young people don’t feel able to talk to anyone about what they are going through which can further isolate them.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suggests that young people who experience bullying and those who bully are at the highest risk of having suicidal feelings and behaviors.
Studies have found that individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual individuals – around 20% of the community surveyed had attempted suicide. With the risk increasing in transgender communities — 43% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetime.
Stressful Life Events
There are a number of family or life events that could increase the suicide risk of a young person. These risk factors include things such as:
- Substance misuse in the family
- The death of a loved one
- Prejudice or racism, from individuals or institutional
- Family problems such as arguing, relationship breakdown, or divorce
- Academic pressure
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Losing friends or relationships
Although a lot more research is needed on the topic, there is often a correlation between a family history of mental disorders in close relations – such as depression and substance abuse — and suicide attempts in young people. It is still not known exactly how these factors influence each other, it is thought to be a combination of genetics, behavior modeling, environment, and communication. It is important to note it is certainly not always the case that young people with a family history of suicide and mental illness will result in further cases.
Warning Signs That Your Teen May Be Suicidal
Being aware of the warning signs of suicide in young people can help you to seek help from a medical professional. Suicide is nobody’s fault, trying to navigate this experience alone can be extremely difficult and can lead to your own mental health deterioration. Reach out for help if any of the following symptoms resonate with you.
Some of these warning signs are symptoms of depressive disorders. If your young person experiences depression, try to notice if any of their symptoms develop or change.
- Very low mood
- Change in sleeping habits – sleeping a lot or very little
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Becoming isolated from friends and family
- Substance use
- Becoming obsessed with, talking about, death and dying
- Physical health issues such as headaches
- Loss of interest or effort at school
- Difficulties paying attention
- Feeling or remarking that they want to die
Some young people may show other warning signs of suicidal intent which are not common symptoms of depressive disorders. These include:
- Speaking about death, dying, or killing themselves
- Making comments about the future such as ‘I won’t be here then’
- Giving away or getting rid of personal possessions
- Suddenly becoming happy after a period of deep depression
- Writing suicide notes, emails, or social media posts
- Having suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation
In younger children, symptoms may be slightly different. You could expect to see symptoms such as:
- Frequent and uncontrollable tantrums
- Physical pain such as stomach or headache
- Feeling very fearful or worried
- Having bad dreams
- Having problems at school
Being aware of the signs of potential suicide risk is important, but remember that it takes trained medical professionals to manage this situation and it’s critical you involve them.
If any of these symptoms of suicidal behavior sound familiar, you are not alone. Help is available.
What Can I Do If My Teen Is Suicidal?
Talking about suicide can be difficult with anyone, let alone with children and teens. However, having open conversations with your friends and family members can help to decrease the stigma and assure youth they are not alone.
The way you approach the discussion can really impact the outcome. Trying to remain calm, non-judgmental, and compassionate can encourage them to talk more honestly. Essentially, the safer you feel, the more they will too.
Some people may feel they have to come up with solutions or answers for their child’s pain, in actual fact just listening and enabling them to feel heard as your child speaks is often the most important thing.
Try not to make any comparisons, between you, your child, their siblings, or their friends. It can be hard to comprehend how they are feeling but the best thing you can do is listen.
Reaching Out for Professional Help
Your child or teen may find it difficult to open up to you about how they feel, for fear that you may be scared, judgmental, or angry. This is why talking to a mental health professional who is removed from the situation can be so helpful.
Although a trained doctor will have a lot of care and empathy for your child, they won’t feel as emotionally involved as you which can help them formulate a practical plan with you and your child. This can be used when your child is thinking about suicide, attempting suicide, or is showing suicidal behavior. For every child, this emergency plan will be different so it’s important to involve them in the planning process.
It may be helpful to remind your child that professionals are trained to work through these kinds of difficult feelings with people. For some children and teens, this may remind them they are not alone in their emotions.
For some people, online therapy or community groups can be beneficial, both for you and your child. It’s crucial in this time that you look after your own well-being, attending therapy or a teen suicide support group for parents can give you the guidance and strength you need to keep going.
Treatment for Young People
Treatment varies depending on the circumstances of your child. They will likely take part in a mental health evaluation and a treatment plan will be formulated reflecting their age, physical and mental health history, and the severity of their condition.
If your child is in immediate danger it may be advised that they stay in a residential setting for some days to ensure your child’s safety. It’s possible that your child will receive some of the following components of care, depending on their needs:
- An extended stay in hospital until suicidal behaviors have reduced
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Intensive outpatient care
- Structured environments
- Residential facilities
- Partial hospital care
- Outpatient therapy
Every child is different, and their treatment plan should reflect this. Although most adolescents would prefer to be at home, sometimes for safety reasons they will need to stay in a residential environment. If they do come home with you, the medical team will help you to create a safe space for your child.
Moving Forward from Suicide Attempts
Transitioning from residential care back to home life can be challenging, regardless of how long your child has spent there. It will take time for everybody to adjust and there are likely to be a lot of difficult emotions and feelings in the house.
One Day at a Time
Focus on the day in front of you instead of getting caught up in the past or the future, this is helpful for everyone.
Returning to Everyday Activities
When you are confident that your child has fully started their healing process and they are fully in recovery, you can begin to re-introduce everyday activities. This could include, sports, school, and socializing. It’s important to note that these should all happen at the pace of the child, rushing into things can be detrimental.
Keeping good communication up with your child about their feelings, their experiences, what they do and don’t feel comfortable with and their progress is crucial to their recovery. It’s easy to miss certain indicators and trigger points during this time and the best way to understand them is to maintain a good dialogue.
Teen suicide is a devastating experience that affects everyone around the young person. Suicide rates are increasing amongst children and teens, indicating we need to increase our conversations around this topic. If you, a friend, or a family member is affected by suicide, or you believe they are considering committing suicide, seek help today. You can contact the national suicide prevention lifeline on 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.
Mental health for children and young adults needs a very specific approach. At Clearfork Academy, we specialize in youth services and adolescent psychiatry, taking a person-centered approach to well-being. We offer intensive outpatient and inpatient treatment for children and adolescents who are at risk of suicide, substance misuse, and other co-existing mental health issues.
We have a highly skilled cohort of staff who truly understand the complexities of youth mental illness. We are here for you and your family, and we have all of your best interests at heart. Get in contact with us at Clearfork Academy today to find out how we can help.