Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is a leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
What the Research Shows
Teen suicide is a growing health concern. According to experts Michelle Moskos, Jennifer Achilles, and Doug Gray, causes of suicidal distress can be caused by psychological, environmental and social factors. Mental illness is the leading risk factor for suicide. Suicide risk-factors vary with age, gender, ethnic group, family dynamics and stressful life events. According to a 2004 report distributed by the National Institute of Mental Health, research shows that risk factors for suicide include depression and other mental disorders, and substance-abuse disorders (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors. The risk for suicide frequently occurs in combination with external circumstances that seem to overwhelm at-risk teens who are unable to cope with the challenges of adolescence because of predisposing vulnerabilities such as mental disorders. Examples of stressors are disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence, sexual orientation confusion, physical and sexual abuse and being the victim of bullying.
National suicide prevention efforts have focused on school education programs, crisis center hotlines, screening programs that seek to identify at-risk adolescents, media guidelines (suicide prevention strategies that involve educating media professionals about the prevalence of copy-cat suicides among adolescents, in an effort to minimize the impact of news stories reporting suicide) and efforts to limit firearm access.
Screening programs have proven to be helpful because research has shown that suicidal people show signs of depression or emotional distress. Referrals can be made for treatment, and effective treatment can be employed when signs are observed in time. Intervention efforts for at-risk youth can put them in contact with mental health services that can save their lives.
Suicide is a relatively rare event and it is difficult to accurately predict which persons with these risk factors will ultimately commit suicide. However, there are some possible warning signs such as:
- Talking About Dying — any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self-harm
- Recent Loss — through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
- Change in Personality — sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
- Change in Behavior — can’t concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
- Change in Sleep Patterns — insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
- Change in Eating Habits — loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
- Fear of losing control – acting erratically, harming self or others
- Low self-esteem — feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”
- No hope for the future — believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change
What the Research Means
One in five teenagers in the U.S. seriously considers suicide annually, according to data collected by the CDC. In 2003, 8 percent of adolescents attempted suicide, representing approximately 1 million teenagers, of whom nearly 300,000 receive medical attention for their attempt; and approximately 1,700 teenagers died by suicide each year. Currently, the most effective suicide prevention programs equip mental health professionals and other community educators and leaders with sufficient resources to recognize who is at risk and who has access to mental health care.
How We Use the Research
The Teen Screen® Program is a community-based mental health screening program for young people that accurately identifies youth who are suffering from mental illness or are at risk of suicide. The program’s primary objective is to help young people and their parents through the early identification of mental health problems, such as depression. Parents of youth found to be at possible risk are notified and helped with identifying and connecting to local mental health services where they can obtain a further evaluation. Most importantly, mental health screening detects youth with depression and other emotional disorders before they fall behind in school and end up in serious trouble, or worst of all end their lives.
Stop a Suicide Today! is a school-based suicide prevention program that has experienced success with a documented reduction in self-reported suicide attempts. Developed by Harvard psychiatrist Douglas Jacobs, MD, Stop a Suicide, Today! teaches people how to recognize the signs of suicide in family members, friends and co-workers, and empowers people to make a difference in the lives of their loved ones. It emphasizes the relationship between suicide and mental illness and the notion that a key step in reducing suicide is to get those in need into mental health treatment.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK or visit their Web site.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s mission is to provide immediate assistance to individuals in suicidal crisis by connecting them to the nearest available suicide prevention and mental health service provider through a toll-free telephone number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is the only national suicide prevention and intervention telephone resource funded by the Federal Government.
Center for Disease Control
Suicide Fact Sheet
Gould, M., Greenberg, T., Velting, D., Shaffer, D. (2003). Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: A review of the past 10 years. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 42(4):386-405.
Achilles, J., Gray, D., Moskos, M. (2004). Adolescent Suicide Myths in the United States. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. 25(4):176-182.
Beautrais, A. (2005). National strategies for the reduction and prevention of suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention.26(1);1-3
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