According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third-leading cause of death for individuals ages 15-24 years old. Startlingly, for every suicide, at least 25 attempts are made.
It is difficult to pinpoint clear reasons why teen’s and/or youth populations commit or attempt suicide. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases greatly during adolescence.
Suicide rates also differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often girls, perhaps because boys tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.
To understand why this occurs, it is important to identify risk factors associated with teen/youth suicide.
Suicide can be caused by many factors (psychological, environmental and social) and vary by age, gender, ethnic group, family dynamics and stressful life events. However, mental illness is the leading risk factor. According to a 2004 report distributed by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), research shows that risk factors for suicide include depression and other mental disorders, and substance-abuse disorders (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90% of people who die by suicide have these risk factors. Risk increases drastically when vulnerable teens/youth are unable to cope with additional challenges and stressors such as: disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence, sexual orientation confusion, physical and sexual abuse, and being the victim of bullying.
The risk of suicide increases dramatically when kids and teens have access to weapons, such as firearms easily accessible in the home. Due to the availability of firearms, nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. As a result, any gun stored in one’s home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.
Another risk factor commonly associated with teen/youth suicide surrounds both prescription and non-prescription drugs. Overdose using over-the-counter, prescription, and non-prescription. It’s important to monitor carefully all medications in one’s home to protect again accidental and purposeful overdosing. Specifically, teens oftentimes share or exchange different prescription medications at school and carry them (or store them) in their locker or backpack. It is important to address safe medication practices and the consequences of unsafe practices with this population.
Additional factors that increase the risk of suicide among teens include:
- Feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness associated with depression
- A previous history of suicide attempts
- A family history of depression or suicide
- Lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers
- Feelings of social isolation
What Can Parents Do?
Stay involved and engaged with your teen. Many teens who commit or attempt suicide have given some type of warning signs (make this a link to the Suicide and Self-Harm Blog) to loved ones ahead of time.
Being diligent and keeping a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn may also reduce his/her risk of suicide. Depression in teens may present differently, for example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying. Keeping communication open by expressing concern, showing love and providing support may encourage your teen to confide in you. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest someone such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.
American Psychology Association. (2017). Suicide is Preventable. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/suicide.aspx
KidsHealth. (2017). About Teen Suicide. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/suicide.html