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What are the warning signs for teen suicide?

Along with other signs of depression or mania, watch for these red flags that may signal suicidal thoughts or feelings in an adolescent with serious mental illness (SMI):
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Unusual neglect of his or her appearance
  • Inability to tolerate praise or reward
  • Describing himself or herself as a bad person
  • Making statements such as "Nothing matters anymore", "I won't be a problem much longer", or "You won't see me again."
  • Giving away prized possessions, throwing out important belongings, or otherwise putting his or her affairs in order
  • Becoming cheerful overnight after a period of depression
  • Having hallucinations or bizarre thoughts
Too many youth are taking their lives. Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4600 youth take their life each year. How can we help these troubled youth? An important thing we can do is identify the warning signs associated with suicide and get help for those who present them.

Did you know that 4 out of 5 teen suicide attempts occurred after clear warning signs were present?
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Frequent physical complaints: migraines, stomach aches
  • Episodes of crying
  • Sudden happiness after a long period of depression
  • Self-mutilation
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Hopeless or vague comments: “I wish I was never born” or “I won’t be around much longer”
  • Direct statements about wanting to kill oneself
  • Themes of death or depression in conversation, writing, artwork, or music
  • Change in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Drug and/or alcohol use
  • Fatigue
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Violent actions
  • Rebellious behavior
  • Running away
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
If you or someone you know shows warning signs for suicide, please seek professional help immediately. 
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Michele Borba
Psychology

Know teen suicide and depression warning signs. All staff members should be serviced in the signs of adolescent depression and suicide (those signs can overlap) by a school psychologist or counselor and know who to report to in case they are concerned about a student. Many high schools are also teaching these warnings to students as well in their health classes and encouraging peers to watch out for each other. These warnings are from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating
  • Decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, fatigue)
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards

A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:

  • Complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
  • Give verbal hints with statements such as: I won’t be a problem for you much longer, “Nothing matters, It’s no use, and I won’t see you again”
  • Put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
  • Become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)

If a child or adolescent says, “I want to kill myself”, or “I’m going to commit suicide”, always take the statement seriously and immediately seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.