Signs of Suicidal Behavior and Teen Suicide Risk Factors

In the 21st century, teenagers are showing signs of suicidal behavior to a greater extent than ever before. Despite the increase, it is challenging to compile verifiable strategies to address suicide prevention. Before and afterward, teen suicide is not something that families want to discuss or even reveal on a public level.

If we keep silent, however, the threat of teen suicide only festers as outward signs of suicidal behavior are missed or even ignored. Silence is not acceptable. Indeed, the lives of teenagers are precious.

Reducing tragedy on a personal level while addressing the national crisis in the rise of suicidal behavior requires us to:

  1. Learn and face the reality of teen suicide facts
  2. Develop a greater understanding of suicidal thinking
  3. Actively reduce the risk factors of teen suicidal behavior

We cannot take a chance on young people’s lives and teenagers that are contemplating or threatening suicide need definitive support from both their families and professionals.

Teen Suicidal Statistics and Signs of Suicidal Behavior

Sometimes the most recognizable definitions are the most helpful, so let’s start at the beginning.

  1. Suicide:
    Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s death. It is death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with the intent to bring about such a final outcome.
  2. Suicide Attempt:
    A suicide attempt is a non-fatal and self-directed behavior that has the intent for the individual to die as a result of the action. A suicide attempt that does not result in death might also not result in injury. All suicide attempts are potentially damaging from both a physical and emotional perspective.
  3. Suicidal Ideation:
    Suicidal ideation refers to an individual thinking about, imagining, weighing, or planning suicide. The thoughts can range from dark fantasy to real-life preparations.

Given these definitions, the two federal government agencies in the United States that gather teen suicide research a priority are the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Together, beyond offering access to resources, they provide the most reliable teen suicidal statistics. Moreover, they also outline the risk factors for suicidal behavior while focusing on the development of suicide prevention strategies.

In Shining A Light On Suicide Prevention Strategies, a 2019 article published on the SAMHSA website, the authors state:

“There has never been a better time to focus on suicide prevention in youth. SAMHSA’s 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that young adults ages 18 to 25 have the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts of any age group. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, showed that in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children, youth, and adolescents ages 10 to 24, behind automobile accidents.”

SAMHSA emphasizes that suicide prevention strategies are not the same as solving a simple equation. There is no obvious answer to the national teen suicide crisis. However, by implementing a multifaceted approach to suicide prevention strategies, we reduce the risk factors for suicidal behavior. We need to save the lives of teens in crisis by taking proactive steps.

Teen Suicide Facts Reveal a Need for Teen Suicide Prevention

Beyond the work of SAMHSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the nation’s capital focus research efforts on teen suicide facts. Although the facts are hard to digest, it’s important to understand the urgency of this crisis so we strategize together to tackle this national issue together.

According to the most recent statistics compiled by the CDC:

  1. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for persons aged 13–19 after automobile accidents.
  2. The suicide rate for persons aged 10–14 declined from 2000 to 2007, but then nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017.
  3. There was a surge in the suicide rate for teen boys, with the rate soaring a shocking 14% every year between 2015 and 2017.
  4. Suicide rates for teenage girls rose 8% annually between 2000 and 2017.
  5. The annual suicide percentage change between 2014 and 2017 was 10% for 15- to 19-year-olds.

Understanding Signs of Suicidal Behavior in Teenagers

Given the risk, a greater understanding of the signs of suicidal behavior helps a parent take preventative actions. From the renowned Mayo Clinic and the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide to the American Psychological Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, many respected professionals dedicate time and resources to addressing this national crisis. In other words, professional help is available.

The first step is to understand the risk factors related to suicidal behavior:

  • Extended suffering due to a life crisis like the death of a loved one
  • An inability to adjust to personal trauma like the diagnosis of a chronic illness
  • Acting anxious or agitated in a manner that contradicts past behavior
  • Behaving recklessly, not caring about danger, taking unnecessary chances
  • Displaying extreme and unexpected mood swings, being unpredictable
  • Persistent insomnia due to anxiety or sleeping too much due to depression
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated, abandoning past relationships
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs as a means of escape
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness and having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped and also being a burden to others
  • A sudden calmness leading to the making of preparations

Many of these risk factors for suicidal behavior are not necessarily signs of suicidal behavior and several could be attributed to simply being a teenager. However, when these risk factors happen concurrently, particularly the last three, the danger often is tangible.

The final item in the list should be most alarming – when someone begins to make preparations for their suicide, professional intervention is a necessity without delay. Once suicidal ideation shifts to the planning stage, a teenager might visit friends and family members, giving away cherished possessions as keepsakes. Many people contemplating suicide will write a note while others will take steps to stockpile the means of suicide, like dangerous drugs or a firearm.

Do not hesitate if your teenager gets to the planning stage. The answer to the question of what to do when someone is threatening suicide is clear and universal – seek professional help as soon as possible.

Seeing Signs of Suicidal Behavior Means Taking Action

If the risk factors for suicidal behavior are evident in your teenager, taking action should be the priority. When it comes to the signs of suicidal behavior, it always is better to be safe than sorry.

If a teenager is threatening suicide and the risk is imminent:

  • Make sure the teenager is not left on their own. If they are alone, they are in danger. Also, you don’t have to do this alone. Whenever possible, ask for help from friends or other family members. Such support is a real positive.
  • If a teenager is on psychiatric or other medications, find out if they have been taking the prescribed amounts. Ask if they are taking any other drugs.
  • Remove any dangerous medications or objects of harm from the bathroom or other areas in the home that the teenager is allowed to use. Reduce risk factors whenever possible.
  • Ask the teenager if they have made any imminent plans. Make sure they give you any weapons or objects of harm in their possession. Take away any knives or sharp objects that the teen could use to hurt himself or herself.
  • Try to keep a teenager as calm as possible. If you stay calm, then calmness will prevail in most situations. Please express love and support for your teenager.
  • Call 911 or take the person to an emergency room. If the teenager is resistant, inform the police of the situation and ask for help.

Teen Suicide Prevention Begins in the Home

Many people think about suicide at one time or another in their lives. In reality, suicidal ideation in teens facing difficulties is quite common. Usually, it’s because they’re struggling with problems in their lives that seem overwhelming and they feel trapped, hopeless, and overwhelmed by life.

Beyond their fear and worry, parents possess the tools to help suicidal teens. Most importantly, shame and stigma are silent killers. By talking openly about the signs of suicidal behavior, suicide prevention becomes a reality as the risk factors for suicidal behavior lessen over time. Indeed, parents openly talking to teens about suicide is a necessity in the 21st century.


Featured Image by Jesús Rodríguez on Unsplash