The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth and young adults are depression, alcohol or drug abuse and aggressive or disruptive behaviors. If several of the following symptoms, experiences or behaviors are present, a mental health professional or another trusted adult—such as a parent or a counselor—should be consulted:
- Depressed mood
- Substance abuse
- Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated
- Family loss or instability; significant problems with parents
- Expressions of suicidal thoughts, or talk of death or the afterlife during moments of sadness or boredom
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
- No longer interested in or enjoying activities that once were pleasurable
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Impulsive, aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage
Danger signs of suicide
- Talking about suicide
- Statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness
- Preoccupation with death
- Suddenly happier, calmer after a period of sadness or withdrawal
- Loss of interest in things one cares about
- Visiting or calling people one cares about
- Making arrangements; setting one's affairs in order
- Giving things away
Adolescents who consider suicide generally feel alone, hopeless and rejected. They
are especially vulnerable to these feelings if they have experienced a loss, humiliation
or trauma of some kind: poor performance on a test, breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend,
parents with alcohol or drug problems or who are abusive or a family life affected
by parental discord, separation or divorce. However, a teenager still may be depressed
or suicidal even without any of these adverse conditions.
Teenagers who are planning to commit suicide might "clean house" by giving away favorite possessions, cleaning their rooms or throwing things away. After a period of depression, they may also become suddenly cheerful because they think that by deciding to end their lives they have "found the solution."
Young people who have attempted suicide in the past or who talk about suicide are at greater risk for future attempts. Listen for hints like "I'd be better off dead" or "I won't be a problem for you much longer."
What can be done?
In short, simply taking the time to talk to troubled teenagers and young adults about their emotions or problems can help prevent the senseless tragedy of teen suicide. Let them know help is available.
Never ignore cues that someone may be suicidal. Express your concerns about them openly and clearly and in private. Asking if someone is thinking about killing themselves will not put "ideas into their head." Most people will experience that question as a sign of concern and will be relieved that you cared enough to ask directly.
If you are concerned about someone's imminent safety, do not leave them alone. Contact Campus Safety (ext. x5566 from on campus) or call 911 (from off campus) immediately.
© Copyright 1998 American Psychiatric Association
Refer anyone who exhibits these danger signs to the Counseling Center, ext. 5555.