Teen suicide is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies that can occur. The signs of suicidality in teens are often subtle, and many teens don’t realize they’re at risk. If you think your teen might be suicidal, it’s important to get help right away. With suicide being the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 24, there’s no better time to learn the warning signs and risk factors so you know when to get help. Below are some of the signs to look for so you can prevent a suicide attempt and get your teen the help they need to recover from their mental disorders.
Talking About Suicide
Before an attempted suicide, a late warning sign is talking about wanting to die or hurt oneself. This could be in the form of a joke, but more often it’s expressed as serious intent. Your teen may say things like “I can’t do this anymore,” “It would be better if I weren’t here,” or “I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.” If you hear your teen expressing these kinds of thoughts, take them seriously and get help right away.
Many teens might say these things as a way of seeking attention or out of anger, but it’s important to err on the side of caution. It’s better to get help and find out that your teen is fine than to ignore warning signs and have something happen to them. Other phrases you might hear can include:
- Questions about how to commit suicide
- Statements about being a burden to others
- Saying there’s no point in living
- Expressing hate for oneself
- Saying they can’t imagine life getting any better
Preoccupation With Death
If your teen is fixated on death or starts talking and thinking about it more than usual, it could be a sign that they are preoccupied with suicide. In fact, the definition of suicidal ideation involves a preoccupation with death and suicidal thoughts. If you notice your teen is reading or watching a lot of content about death, researching methods of suicide online, or talking about death more than usual, this is considered suicidal behavior, and it’s important to reach out for help.
Your teen may also start giving away their prized possessions or saying goodbye to friends and family members as if they won’t be seeing them again. Unfortunately, some parents might choose to think this preoccupation is a “phase.” Sadly, many professionals also describe suicidal ideation in black-and-white terms, when in reality, evidence shows that SI has a tendency to wax and wane.
One minute, your teen may be feeling relatively better and the next, they may be consumed by dark thoughts again. This is why it’s essential to get professional help if you’re worried about your teen’s mental health, even if they seem to be doing better at the moment.
Withdrawing From Friends And Activities
One early sign that a teen might be suicidal is withdrawing from friends and activities they used to enjoy. If your teen seems more isolated than usual and isn’t interested in hanging out with friends or participating in activities, this can be a sign of depression and could be considered suicidal behavior. Unfortunately, around 13% of teens aged 12 to 17 stated they suffered from a depressive episode. Sadly, incidents of depression and the risk of suicide continue to increase in the teen population.
Other signs of depression can include:
- Eating or sleeping more or less than usual
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Fatigue or low energy
- Irritability or crankiness
- Sadness or hopelessness
If you notice any of these signs in your teen, it’s important to get help right away. Depression is a treatable mental illness, but it’s also the leading cause of suicide. In fact, most people who die by suicide have some form of mental illness, with depression, substance abuse, and psychosis being the most common.
In addition, a prior suicide attempt is also one of the biggest risk factors for teens. If you notice your teen exhibiting the same signs as before, don’t hesitate to contact your family doctor, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a treatment center, or get help from emergency services for help.
Suffering From a Crisis
Studies conducted on people who attempted suicide but survived found that at least one in three teens under the age of 18 suffered from a crisis within 24 hours of their suicide attempt. A crisis can be anything from a break-up to failing a test at school. Impulsivity is something that distinguishes teen suicide from other suicide attempts.
For some people, a crisis might be something they can eventually move on from, but for others, it may feel like the end of the world. This can be especially true if your teen suffers from a mental illness or other risk factors. If your teen is going through a tough time and you’re worried about them, reach out for help. You can also talk to your teen about how they’re feeling and offer support.
While you might think that your teen will “get over it,” or that the crisis they are experiencing isn’t a big deal, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Surveys also showed that teen survivors of suicide said they tried to attempt suicide because they were trying to escape a situation that seemed impossible to deal with.
Changes in Behavior
If you notice your teen is acting differently, it could be a sign that they are struggling with risk factors of suicide, such as mental health issues, isolation, or even psychosis. Some common changes in behavior that may indicate your teen may be secretly struggling include:
- Skipping school or class
- Getting into fights or becoming more aggressive
- Defiant behaviors
- Experimenting with drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in hobbies or activities
- Being moody or irritable
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
Any change in behavior can indicate your teen is struggling with something, so it’s important to be on the lookout for any changes, no matter how small.
If you notice your teen is exhibiting any of these suicidal behaviors, or if you’re just worried about their mental health, reach out for help. You can talk to your teen’s doctor, a therapist, or even a school counselor.
Expressing Feelings of Hopelessness
When a person is considering suicide, they often feel like there’s no way out and that things will never get better. If your teen is expressing feelings of hopelessness, it’s important to take them seriously. Other more subtle signs of hopelessness could be a lack of plans for the future.
People that don’t have suicidal ideation make plans for the future. Teens usually make plans for the weekend, college, or career. But for someone considering suicide, they may not see a future for themselves at all. If your teen seems lost or without hope, it’s important to get help right away.
Warning Signs That Suicidal Ideation Has Turned Into a Plan
Once someone has decided they want to die by suicide, time is of the essence. 40% of suicide attempt survivors said they decided to take their own lives 5 minutes before the act. Compared to approximately 10% stated they planned their attempt as long as 12 months before.
This means that if you wait to get help for your teen until they are actively trying to hurt themselves, it may be too late. That’s why it’s important to know the warning signs that your teen’s suicidal ideation has turned into a plan. These signs include:
- Sudden mood changes (from hopelessness to calmness, for example)
- Giving away prized possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Researching methods of suicide online or in books
- Acquiring the means to commit suicide (pills, a gun, etc.)
If you notice your teen exhibiting any of these behaviors, taking action as soon as possible is the best way to get help. You can call a suicide hotline in your country, take your teen to the emergency room, or call 911.
It’s also important to remember that suicidal ideation is not always easy to spot. Just because your teen seems happy and well-adjusted doesn’t mean they aren’t secretly struggling. There are still many studies that show a correlation between seemingly “successful” or “happy” people that still take their lives.
Don’t ever brush away the warning signs of teen suicide even if your teen seems “happy.” For teens under pressure, the weight of the world can feel too much to handle.
Suicide Prevention Resources
By far the best way to prevent teen suicide is through awareness and education. The more people know about the warning signs, the easier it will be to spot them in themselves or their loved ones. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Here are some teen suicide prevention resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
- The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ+ youth): 1-866-488-7386
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 in the US
Find Help Right Away at Clear Recovery Center Teen Program
In addition to being aware of the signs of suicide, you can also get your teen help to treat their depression at Clear Recovery Center’s Teen Program. Our program is designed to meet the specific needs of adolescents. We evidence-based treatments and holistic methods to help teens and their families heal their minds and bodies. If you’re ready to get started, contact us today and explore our anxiety and depression treatment programs, support groups, outpatient, partial hospitalization programs, and referrals to residential treatment programs.