The teen suicide rate has dropped 25 percent since the early 1990s, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). While this decline in teen suicide is encouraging, suicide statistics amongst teens remain high. The APA reports that suicide is the third-leading cause of death in young adults ages 15 to 24.
Depression and Suicide in Teens
As with adults, the teen suicide rate is highest in teens who suffer from depression, substance abuse or other mental disorders. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates one in eight teens suffers from depression, with young women twice as likely to be depressed as young men.
Teen depression symptoms indicate an increased risk of suicidal behavior. Some teen depression symptoms include:
- Feeling bored all the time
- Feelings of shame, guilt or worthlessness
- Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
- Irritation and crankiness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Moving and talking slowly
- Problems with concentration, memory and decision making
- Restlessness and agitation
- Sadness, unhappiness, crying fits and feeling “blue”
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Depression is not the only cause of suicide in teens. Other factors that increase the risk of suicide include:
- Access to firearms
- Anxiety disorders
- Conduct disorders
- Physical, mental or sexual abuse
- Previous suicide attempts
- Stressful life events (family death, parent divorce, bullying, etc.)
- Substance abuse
- Teen pregnancy.
Homosexual teens have higher than normal suicide rates, due to social rejection by peers (and sometimes family), bullying and social isolation. Exposure to people who commit suicide – either personal exposure or through the media – also increases the risk of suicide, a condition referred to as the “contagion effect.”
Signs of Suicidal Behavior in Teens
Warning signs of suicide in teens should always be taken seriously. Never assume that a teen doesn’t mean it or is simply being dramatic if he exhibits suicidal behavior. Too much is at stake to dismiss any of the following signs:
- Difficulty functioning at home, work, school and in social settings
- Feeling overwhelming guilt, shame or hopelessness
- Feeling trapped or abandoned
- Giving away or throwing out possessions
- Sudden change in personality or appearance
- Sudden cheerfulness after depression (possibly a sign that the teen has decided on a suicidal act)
- Thinking and talking consistently about death or a desire to be dead
- Thinking or behaving abnormally, or signs of psychosis
- Threatening suicide both directly (“I’ll kill myself”) and indirectly (“You’re better off without me”).
Preventing Teen Suicide
Teens suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts need professional medical care. Suicidal teens should be carefully monitored, and access to firearms, medication or other suicide methods should be strictly controlled.
Talking to teens about suicide does not make a child suicidal even if he is already depressed. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) is a 24-hour counseling service for people who are suicidal or those who fear a family member or friend is planning to commit suicide.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Staff. (2008). Facts for families: Teen suicide. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website: www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/teen_suicide.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Staff. (2009). Depression: A fact sheet for parents. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website: www.acog.org/departments/adolescentHealthCare/TeenCareToolKit/depression_4_parents.pdf.
American Psychiatric Association Staff. (2005). LetÃ•s talk facts about teen suicide. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the American Psychiatric Association website: healthyminds.org/Document-Library/Brochure-Library/Teen-Suicide.aspx.