Spot the Signs
Suicide is complicated and cannot be linked to just one cause. There are generally a number of factors that come together to increase a person’s risk. Fortunately, this gives us many avenues to intervene. Consider these common conditions that increase a child’s risk.
Mental health: Over 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental health disorder (most commonly depression). These mental health conditions are treatable but many kids struggle without getting help. When depression goes untreated, a young person may begin to feel so hopeless that they consider suicide. Depression can be hard to see. It doesn’t always look like a sad mood. Talk to your child’s doctor or your school’s counseling staff if you are concerned.
- Many people begin to experience depression in their teen years.
- Depression is not an attitude, but a serious health disorder.
- Just like any illness, depression requires treatment by a professional.
Substance use: Many young people who struggle with depression also struggle with alcohol and/or drug use. Talk to your child about the dangers of using alcohol or drugs to cope with negative emotions. If you are aware of your child using substances, seek support.
Non-suicidal self-injury: While some people turn to drinking and/or drugs to deal with negative emotions, some people use self-injury to manage emotional pain. Non-suicidal self-injury is when someone hurts their body on purpose without the intention of dying. Even though self-injury isn’t the same as a suicide attempt, it is a risk factor. Just like other mental health concerns, it is best to seek professional help for self-injury as soon as possible. For more information, read Helping Youth Who Self-Injure.
Access to guns: Suicide crises are often short-term but having access to a gun makes it easier to carry out the act in an instant. Many people keep unlocked guns in their homes, making them easy to get, quick, and deadly for any young person. Reduce suicide risk by not storing a gun in your home. If you choose to keep a gun in your home, keep it locked, unloaded, and lock/store ammunition separately.
Populations at elevated risk: Depression and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone but research shows that certain youth face increased risk including LGBTQ youth, those who have been impacted by suicide, are experiencing homelessness, or live with certain disabilities. For more information, read Populations at Elevated Risk.
- Suicide is preventable. There are many things we can do to save a life.
- Receiving treatment for mental health concerns and restricting access to guns are proven ways to help prevent youth suicide.
- Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. Crisis line responders, mental health professionals, family and friends help people find hope and save lives.
A warning sign is an indication that someone might be having thoughts of suicide. Most people give clues or signals of their intentions. If you see/hear a warning sign, seek immediate help.
Listen: “I wish I were dead” and “I won’t be around to deal with this much longer” are warnings of serious suicidal thoughts.
Read writing assignments and social media where young people often share their feelings. Writing about death or actively seeking weapons/means to carry out the act are warning of a suicidal crisis.
Watch for big changes:
- Significant differences in appearance or mood
- Extreme withdrawal
- Increase in risky behavior (including alcohol/drug use)
- Decreased interest in things they once enjoyed
- Almost everyone who dies by suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore threats of suicide.
- Statements like "You'll be sorry when I'm dead," or "I can't see any way out" - even if said casually - may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
- Because teens often give warning signs to their friends, it is important to teach all students what to do if they are worried about a friend.