Preventing Adolescent Suicide: What You Can Do

IMAGE If your adolescent child, family member, friend, or student were considering suicide, would you recognize the warning signs? If so, what would you do?

Facing Challenging Times

Adolescence is a time of hope and expectancy, as well as extreme disappointment and mood swings. It’s normal for teens to experience stress, confusion, and self-doubt. In addition to normal physical, hormonal, and emotional changes, teens confront many of the these additional challenges:
  • Academic pressures and overburdened school systems
  • Social demands to find acceptance among peers, to be attractive, or to date
  • Divorce, single-parent homes, or other instability in the home, such as abuse or violence
  • Body image issues, which may fuel eating disorders
  • Negative peer pressure or bullying
  • Exposure to violence outside the home, alcohol, and drugs
  • Poverty
  • Confusion and shame about sexual identity or orientation
Teens may have fleeting thoughts or fantasies about suicide from time-to-time when they are struggling. But most do not make a suicide attempt or gesture. However, when the pressure seems too great, a teen may feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness, which can lead to serious thoughts of suicide.How do you know when a teen is really in need of help?

Looking at the Risk Factors

Teen suicide is often due to a combination of factors. These factors may be biological, psychological, and cultural. Family issues also play a role. These factors can interact with a significant life event, like the break-up of an important relationship.Examples of factors that put a teen at risk for suicide include:
  • Previously attempting suicide
  • Having depression
  • Abusing drugs
  • Having conduct disorder
  • Having a disruptive and non-supportive family situation
  • Experiencing relationship problems with a significant person
  • Bullying by peers
  • Having poor coping skills
  • Having other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Taking antidepressants, especially when just starting them
  • Having conflicted feelings about sexual orientation—risk may be increased if the teen experiences social rejection or bullying because of sexual orientation
  • Having a family member, especially a parent, who has committed suicide
Other risk factors include:
  • Recent death of a loved one
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Early loss
  • School failure
  • Anniversary of a past loss or major life event
  • Perfectionism and overachievement

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