Preventing Youth Suicide

Risk Factors & Warning Signs

April 30, 2019

Preventing Youth Suicide

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among school age youth. However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help. Most important is to never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret.

Suicide Risk Factors    Although far from perfect predictors, certain characteristics are associated with increased odds of having suicidal thoughts. These include:

  • Mental illness including depression, conduct disorders, and substance abuse
  • Family stress/dysfunction
  • Environmental risks, including presence of a firearm in the home and unsecured prescription medications
  • Situational crises (e.g., traumatic death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, family violence)

Suicide Warning Signs Most suicidal youth demonstrate observable behaviors that signal their suicidal thinking. These include:

  • Suicidal threats in the form of direct (“I am going to kill myself”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up again”) statements
  • Suicide notes and plans (including online postings)
  • Prior suicidal behavior
  • Making final arrangements (e.g., making funeral arrangements, writing a will, giving away prized possessions)
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts and/or feelings

What to do Youth who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a youth gives signs that they may be considering suicide, the following actions should be taken:

  • Remain calm
  • Ask the youth directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., “Are you thinking of suicide?”)
  • Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory
  • Listen; Do not judge
  • Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever
  • Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone
  • Remove means for self-harm, (i.e. medications and firearms etc.)

For Downloadable Version Click Below

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline          1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Back to Article List