Suicide is when someone dies on purpose. A young person dying because of overwhelming
hopelessness or frustration is devastating to family, friends, and community. Parents,
siblings, classmates, coaches, and neighbors might be left wondering if they could
have done something to prevent that young person from turning to suicide.
If you're worried about your teen or another child, take it seriously and talk
to them right away. You also can turn to these resources for 24/7 help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text
CONNECT to 741741. You also can contact them through their
Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ community: 1-866-488-7386 or text START
to 678678. You can also contact them through their
These toll-free lines are staffed by people who are trained to help. The calls
are confidential. If necessary, call 911 for immediate help.
Note: In 2020, the FCC established 988 as the new, nationwide,
3-digit phone number for Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and
mental health crisis counselors. All phone service providers must direct 988 calls
to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022.
Why Do Teens Consider Suicide?
Learning more about what might lead a teen to suicide may help prevent further
The reasons behind a teen's suicide or attempted suicide can be complex. Although
suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts
increases greatly during adolescence.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after accidents and homicide.
It's also thought that many more attempts are made for every completed teen suicide.
The risk of suicide increases greatly when kids and teens have access to firearms
at home, and nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a
gun. That's why any guns in your
home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.
Overdose using over-the-counter, prescription, and non-prescription medicine is
also a very common risk for attempting and completing suicide. It's important to monitor
carefully all medicines in your home. Know that teens will "trade" different prescription
medicines at school and carry them (or store them) in their locker or backpack.
Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide
about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or
cutting themselves. Yet boys die by
suicide about four times as often girls, and experts think this is because they tend
to use more lethal methods.
Which Teens Are at Risk for Suicide?
It can be hard to remember how it felt to be a teen, caught in that gray area between
childhood and adulthood. Sure, it's a time of tremendous possibility, but it also
can be a period of stress and worry. There's pressure to fit in socially, to perform
academically, and to act responsibly.
Adolescence is also a time of sexual
identity and relationships and a need for independence that often conflicts with
the rules and expectations set by others.
Young people with mental health problems — such as anxiety,
depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia
— are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Teens going through major life changes
(parents' divorce, moving,
a parent leaving home due to military
service or parental separation, financial
changes) and those who are bullied are
at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.
Things that increase the risk of suicide among teens include:
lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings
of social isolation
struggling with their gender identity and/or sexuality in an unsupportive family
What Are the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Suicide among teens often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems
at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family
Teens who are thinking about suicide might:
talk about suicide or death in general
give hints that they might not be around anymore
talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
pull away from friends or family
write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss
start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends
lose the desire to take part in favorite things or activities
have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
have changes in eating or sleeping habits
engage in risk-taking behaviors
lose interest in school or sports
What Can Parents Do?
Many teens who die by or attempt suicide have given some type of warning to loved
ones ahead of time. So it's important for parents to know the warning signs so teens
who might be suicidal can get the help they need.
Even though it's not always preventable, it's always a good idea to be informed
and take action to help a troubled teenager.
Some adults feel that kids who say they are going to hurt or kill themselves are
"just doing it for attention." It's important to realize that if teens are ignored
when seeking attention, it may increase the chance of them harming themselves.
Getting attention in the form of ER visits, doctor's appointments, and residential
treatment generally is not something teens want — unless they're seriously depressed
and thinking about suicide or at least wishing they were dead. It's important to see
warning signs as serious, not as "attention-seeking" to be ignored.
Watch and Listen
Keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding depression
in teens is very important because it can look different from commonly held beliefs
about depression. For example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades,
sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying.
Try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support,
and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously.
A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you, but for a teen it can
feel immense and consuming. Don't minimize or ignore what your teen is going through,
as this can increase their sense of hopelessness.
If your teen doesn't feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral
person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or
your child's doctor.
Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide
or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide
in their teen's head.
It's always a good idea to ask, even though it can be hard. Sometimes it helps
to explain why you're asking. For instance, you might say: "I've noticed that you've
been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying
to kill yourself?"
How Can We Get Help?
If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help right
away. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist
or psychiatrist, or your local hospital's department of psychiatry can give you
a list of doctors in your area. Your local mental health association or county medical
society can also provide references. In an emergency, call 1-800-273-8255.
If your teen is in a crisis situation, your local emergency
room can do a psychiatric evaluation and refer you to the right resources. If
you're unsure about whether you should bring your child to the emergency room, call
If you've scheduled a visit with a mental health professional, keep the appointment,
even if your teen says they're feeling better or won't go. Suicidal thoughts do tend
to come and go. But your teen needs help to develop the skills needed to keep suicidal
thoughts and behaviors under control during a crisis.
If your teen won't go to the visit, tell the mental health professional. By going
to the session and working with the clinician yourself, you'll maintain access to
the help your child needs. The clinician also can discuss ways that might help your
teen agree to get help.
Remember that conflicts between a parent and child can make things worse for teens
who feel isolated, misunderstood, devalued, or suicidal. Get help for family problems
and resolve them in a healthy way. Tell the mental health professional if your family
has a history of depression, substance abuse, or domestic violence. Talk about any
other stresses at home, such as an ongoing environment of criticism.
If You've Lost a Child to Suicide
For parents, the death of a child is the most painful loss imaginable. For parents
who've lost a child to suicide, the pain and grief can be intensified. These feelings
may never completely go away. But survivors of suicide can take steps to begin the
Keep in contact with others. Suicide can be isolating for surviving family members
because friends often don't know what to say or how to help. Find supportive people
to talk with about your child and your feelings. If those around you seem uncomfortable
about reaching out, start the conversation and ask for their help.
Remember that your other family members are grieving too, and that everyone expresses
grief in their own way. Your other children, in particular, may try to deal with their
pain alone so as not to burden you. Be there for each other through the tears, anger,
and silences — and, if necessary, get help and support together.
Expect that anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays may be hard. Important days
and holidays often reawaken a sense of loss and anxiety. On those days, do what's
best for your emotional needs, whether that means surrounding yourself with family
and friends or planning a quiet day of reflection.
Understand that it's normal to feel guilty and to question how this could have
happened. But it's also important to realize that you might never get the answers
you seek. The healing that takes place over time comes from reaching a point of forgiveness
— for both your child and yourself.
Counseling and support groups can play a huge role in helping you realize you
are not alone. Sometimes, bereaved family members become part of the suicide prevention
network that helps parents, teenagers, and schools learn how to help prevent future
Helping Teens Cope With Loss
What should you do if someone your teen knows has attempted or died by suicide?
First, acknowledge your child's many emotions. Some teens say they feel guilty —
especially those who felt they could have interpreted their friend's actions and words
Others say they feel angry with the person who committed or attempted suicide for
having done something selfish. Still others say they feel no strong emotions or don't
know how to express how they feel. Reassure your child that there is no right or wrong
way to feel, and that it's OK to talk about it when they're ready.
When someone attempts suicide and survives, people might be afraid of or uncomfortable
talking with them about it. Tell your teen to resist this urge — this is a time
when a person needs to feel connected to others.
Many schools address a student's suicide by calling in special counselors to talk
with the students and help them cope. If your teen is dealing with a friend or classmate's
suicide, encourage them to use resources or to talk to you or another trusted adult.