Suicidal behavior is defined as a preoccupation or act that is focused on causing one's own death voluntarily.
Adolescence is a stressful time, filled with major changes. Feelings of stress, confusion, fear, uncertainty, as well as pressure to succeed, can influence a teenager's ability to make decisions and problem solve.
For some teens, normal developmental changes coupled with life events (such as divorce or moving) can be very upsetting or even overwhelming. Problems can seem difficult or embarrassing to overcome. For some teens, suicide may seem like a solution to these difficulties.
Suicide risk factors
Suicide risk factors vary with age, gender, and cultural and social influences and may change over time. Risk factors for suicide frequently occur in combination with each other and may include:
One or more diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorders
Undesirable life events or recent losses (for example, death or parental divorce)
Family history of mental or substance abuse disorder
Family history of suicide
Family violence, including physical, sexual, or verbal or emotional abuse
Prior suicide attempt
Firearm in the home
Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including family, peers, in the news or in fiction stories
Warning signs of suicide
Many of the warning signs of possible suicidal feelings are also symptoms of depression. Observations of the following behaviors by parents and caregivers may be helpful in identifying adolescents who may be at risk of attempting suicide:
Changes in eating and sleep habits
Loss of interest in usual activities
Withdrawal from friends and family members
Acting out behaviors and running away
Alcohol and drug use
Neglect of personal appearance
Preoccupation with death and dying
Increased physical complaints
Loss of interest in school or schoolwork
Feelings of boredom
Feelings of wanting to die
Lack of response to praise
Indicates plans to commit suicide through verbal hints, sudden cheerfulness after a depression or giving away favorite possessions
Threats of suicide communicate desperation and a cry for help. Always take statements of suicidal feelings, thoughts, behaviors or plans very seriously. Any child or adolescent who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately.
Treatment for suicidal feelings
Specific treatment for suicidal feelings and behaviors will be determined by your child's doctor based on a thorough examination.
You will be involved in all decisions regarding treatment if your child is a minor.
Any adolescent who has attempted suicide requires an initial physical evaluation to rule out life-threatening medical situations followed by psychiatric evaluation and treatment until he or she is stable.
This frequently will take place at an inpatient facility to ensure safety of the child. Mental health treatment for suicidal feelings, thoughts, or behaviors begins with detailed evaluation of events in the adolescent's life during the two to three days preceding the suicidal behaviors.
A comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family contributes to decisions regarding treatment needs. Treatment recommendations may include individual therapy for the adolescent, family therapy, and, further hospitalization to provide the adolescent a supervised and safe environment. Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.
Prevention of suicide
Recognition and early intervention of mental and substance abuse disorders is the most effective way to prevent suicide and suicidal behavior. Studies have shown that suicide prevention programs most likely to succeed are those focused on identification and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, coping with stress, and controlling aggressive behaviors.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it is important to learn the warning signs of teenage suicide in order to prevent an attempt. Maintaining open communication with your teenager and their friends provides an opportunity for helping as needed. If a teen is talking about suicide, he or she must receive an immediate evaluation.
Warning signs for teen depression
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or isolation
- Declining school performance
- Loss of pleasure or interest in social and sports activities
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Nervousness, agitation or irritability
- Substance abuse
What parents can do
- Keep medications and firearms away from children
- Get your child help (medical or mental health professional).
- Support your child (listen, avoid undue criticism, remain connected)
Become informed (library, local support group, Internet)
What teens can do
- Take your friend's behavior and discussion of suicide seriously
- Encourage your friend to seek professional help, and accompany your friend if necessary
- Talk to an adult you trust; don't try to help your friend by yourself