Teen suicide is when a child ends their own life. It can be impulsive or planned. However, not all suicide attempts lead to death. In fact, it doesn’t always mean your child wants to die. It could be their way of calling for help.
Anyone can struggle with thoughts of suicide. The teenage years are especially hard and stressful. Lots of things can affect your teen’s mood and behavior. Their body is changing. They are dealing with hormones. Your teen can feel pressure from friends, family, and teachers. They may be dealing with negative events.
Path to improved health
Don’t blame yourself or your teen if they have suicidal thoughts or attempts suicide. Instead, visit your child’s doctor to learn what may be contributing to your child feeling this way. Once that’s known, treatment options are available.
People who have suicidal thoughts suffer a range of symptoms. Sadness, despair, neglect, and anger are among them. Some people who struggle with suicide may not display any signs. Leading warning signs for suicide may include:
- Talking about death and/or suicide in a casual way
- Saying they wish they hadn’t been born
- Asking about death or how to commit violent acts
- Talking about leaving or going away
- Saying they won’t need things soon
- Not wanting to be around people anymore
- Seeming sad and remote instead of happy and social
- Becoming more angry or edgy
- Losing interest in hobbies or events
- Having trouble focusing
- Showing changes in normal routine, such as sleeping, eating, or grooming
- Acting out in harmful ways, such as drinking, using drugs, or hurting themselves
- Getting in trouble with the law
Depression is a main cause of suicide. It’s a complex illness that can cloud judgment. But it’s important to remember that depression is no one’s fault. It’s a medical condition affected by chemicals in the brain, which can influence moods and thought processes. It changes their thoughts, feelings, and choices. When your teen thinks they will never be happy again, death is not the answer. It may take time, but professional treatment will help.
Many factors can cause depression. Usually, it’s a mix of things.
- Certain events are hard to deal with, such as death, breakups, moving, and bullying. It’s natural to feel overcome or helpless.
- Issues like illnesses, trouble in school, and self-esteem also have an effect.
- Another big factor is genetics. Teens are at greater risk of depression or other mental disorders if family members have them, too. Dealing with your own depression or mental disorder could make it harder to detect warning signs in your teen. Also, children tend to model the behavior of adults they know.
- Your teen could have ongoing, or chronic, depression. They also might have episodes, or a mix of both types.
Depression can exist with other issues. Some teens turn to substance abuse to try and cure or escape real world problems. Alcohol and most drugs also are depressants. They alter your thoughts and choices.
Other mental health conditions may be associated with suicidal thoughts. These include anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder. These problems require care to prevent these thoughts.
Some teens will try to hide depression or thoughts of suicide. They might withdraw or act out. This can make it hard to notice warning signs. It’s important to keep an open and ongoing dialogue with your teen. Ask, listen, and tell. When asked, a lot of children will open up. Talk to them to know their issues and concerns. Maybe they are scared to talk about it, or don’t have someone to listen. Tell them you care and that there are options for help.
Depression is treatable. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), children between the ages of 12 and 18 should be tested for depression. Ask your child’s doctor to test your teen as part of his or her annual physical exam. This is even more important if you believe your teen is at risk of suicide.
Two common tests your doctor may use are the Patient Health Questionnaire for Adolescents (PHQ-A) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). These tests measure type, start, length, and range of symptoms. They aren’t meant to be the only way to diagnose depression. Your doctor should also consider your teen’s behavior and history.
Medical care is critical to treat thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts. It can also help address the causes, such as depression. Treatment will vary based on elements, such as:
- Family history
- Mental health state and history
- Type of disorder
- Presence of other disorders or conditions
- Current medicine list
It’s common for doctors to create an integrated care plan. This includes a mix of medicine, therapy, and education. Your doctor will closely manage the type, dosage, and effects for best results. Recovery time for suicide attempts and depression varies. Some forms of depression can return. Your teen might always have it and need treatment on an ongoing basis.
Education is an important part of treatment. The more your teen learns, the better the likelihood that your teen will respect and follow their doctor’s orders. Kids don’t realize how common depression is. It can comfort your child to know they aren’t to blame and can get better. It also helps reduce guilt.
Include everyone in your teen’s treatment plan. Set up support plans with teachers and coaches. Inform family members and friends’ parents as well. Your teen needs support from all areas. On top of everything, make sure your teen is okay with the treatment plan. They need to agree and feel safe in order to succeed.
Things to consider
It’s crucial to get help for your child to manage their depression and prevent suicide. If you think your child is depressed or at risk of suicide, talk to your doctor. You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. (In July 2021, the national suicide prevention hotline number will be 988.) This is a free counseling service that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s a trusted way to get advice and support. If you’re worried about another teenager, tell their parents right away. Doing this can save lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests ways you can protect your teen from suicidal thoughts and depression:
- Make sure they get routine medical care. This includes testing for mental disorders, like depression.
- Let your child know they can come to you with any problem, even one that could get them in trouble.
- Instruct your teen how to get help or support for problems.
- Include doctors, family, friends, teachers, and coaches in your teen’s well being. Surround them with positive role models.
- Help your teen with confidence. Teach them skills for handling conflict, violence, and peer pressure.
If you think your teen is high risk for suicide, contact your doctor to get help. You also should see your child’s doctor if you think your teen may have depression. If your teen attempts suicide, contact 911 right away.
Sadly, teen suicide can result in death. Your teen may have a friend or classmate who commits suicide. Be prepared for your teen to have emotions of anger, grief, confusion, and sadness. Talk to your teen about their feelings. If needed, provide a counselor, doctor, or friend they can confide in.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How do I know if my child is at risk of suicide?
- How can I look for signs of suicide, such as self-inflicted wounds?
- What are the differences between normal teen behavior and teen depression?
- What should I do if my teen is depressed?
- Did I do something to cause my child’s depression?
- Are antidepressants addictive?
- Can antidepressants cause suicide?
- Once my teenager is treated for suicide or depression, will it come back?
- What should I do if my teen won’t follow treatment and gets worse?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.