Preventing Teen Suicide

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 18, 2021
5 min read

Many young people face high levels of stress and confusion, along with family problems. When you throw in raging hormones, it sometimes seems more than a teen can handle. Perhaps it's not surprising that teen suicide is increasingly common.

In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between ages 15 and 24, with more than 6,000 lives lost each year. In 2019, the suicide rate among males was almost 4 times higher than among females

However, attempted suicides greatly outnumber suicides. Because males often choose more violent methods in their attempts, they are often more successful. But females may attempt suicide more often than males.

In 2019, suicides among teens between ages 15 and 24 accounted for 14.6% of all suicides in the U.S.

If you have ever seriously contemplated suicide -- meaning doing some serious planning, not just feeling very down -- it's important to take this very seriously. Contact a trusted adult or a mental health professional immediately.

It's also important to know the suicide risk factors, so you can help yourself, a friend, or a family member if suicide ever becomes an issue.

Risk factors are habits or histories that put someone at greater likelihood of having a problem. Some of the risk factors for suicide may be inherited, such as a family history of suicide. Others, like physical illness, may also be out of your control. But if you can recognize the risk factors for suicide early and act to change the ones you can control, you may save your life -- or that of a close friend or family member.

Read the suicide risk factors below and check the ones you can control. (For instance, you can talk to a mental health professional for ways to deal with lack of social support, feelings of hopelessness, or mood disorders like depression.)

It's important to take these risk factors for suicide very seriously:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Psychological and mental disorders, especially depression and other mood disorders, schizophrenia, and social anxiety
  • Substance abuse and/or alcohol disorders
  • History of abuse or mistreatment
  • Family history of suicide
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical illness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Financial or social loss
  • Relationship loss
  • Isolation or lack of social support
  • Self-harming behaviors like cutting
  • Easy access to methods/means of suicide
  • Exposure to others who have attempted or committed suicide

Suicide protective factors are things that reduce the potential for suicidal behavior. They include:

  • Psychological and clinical care for physical, mental, and substance abuse disorders
  • Restricted or limited access to methods/means of suicide
  • Family and community support
  • Support from medical and health care personnel
  • Developing problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills
  • Religious and cultural belief systems that discourage suicide

If you want to prevent suicide, it's important to understand depression. Depression is often used to describe general feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and hopelessness. When teens feel sad or low, they often say they are depressed. While most of us feel sad or low sometimes, feelings of depression are longer lasting and often more serious.

A mental health professional (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) diagnoses and treats depression. Depression is diagnosed when someone has at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling down, depressed or sad most of the day; feeling irritable and angry
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain; a decrease or increase in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling very nervous and hyper; feeling sluggish
  • Fatigue or no energy
  • Feeling worthless or unnecessarily guilty
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or indecisiveness
  • Either recurrent thoughts of death without a specific plan or a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for committing suicide

If you feel a sense of hopelessness, talk to your parents or someone you trust. They can make you an appointment with a mental health professional for a diagnosis and proper treatment, possibly including medications and/or therapy.

One key protective factor of suicide is to restrict access to the methods for committing it. It's vital for friends and family members of someone who is at risk of suicide to understand the methods commonly used.

The most common method of successful suicide among young adults is firearms. If your parents, family members, or adult friends own guns, they should take careful measures -- especially gun trigger locks and locked cabinets -- to ensure that someone with risk factors for suicide cannot get to the weapon. Such safety precautions also prevent accidental misuse by children.

Other common methods of suicide are asphyxiation (suffocating oneself), drowning, cutting arteries, overdosing on medications or illegal drugs, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Friends and family of someone with suicide risk factors should take all available steps to restrict that person's access to things like knives, rope, pipes, and medication.

Take any suicidal thought or suicide threat seriously. Even if the person seems to have the "perfect life" on the outside, it is impossible to know what is going on behind closed doors.

Teens contemplating suicide should seek immediate help from friends, family, and health care or mental health care professionals. Anyone confronted with a teen threatening suicide should contact mental health care professionals at once.

Even if you have doubts about the seriousness of a suicidal threat, you should still consider it an emergency and take appropriate action.

There are many resources available to teens who are thinking about suicide. Close friends, family members, teachers, coaches, and other members of the community can provide comfort and moral support.

If you're feeling suicidal or know someone who is, don't be afraid to approach these people to express your feelings. They can help save your life -- or the life of your friend or family member. Religious groups and community organizations are also a valuable resource. In addition, there are many suicide hotlines that provide anonymous assistance. One of them is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.