Suicide and Teens
A Guide for Family and Loved Ones
*Content written and sourced from published reports by Pine Grove's Clinical Therapists.
At Pine Grove, we understand how vital it is for family members, friends and educators to recognize the warning signs of suicide in young people and act quickly and appropriately. We hope this information serves as an effective resource in terms of identifying the characteristics of suicidal teenagers, understanding the risks and how to provide help. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in American teens and by recognizing the signs and intervening, we can do our part to help our youth find hope and healing.
Myths & Realities
Myth #1: “Adolescence is a care-free time of life.” Reality: Adolescence is often confusing and painful…their problems are very real to them and their coping skills are typically underdeveloped.
Myth #2: “Kids who talk about committing suicide never do.” Reality: The vast majority of those who commit suicide have talked about it in some way, either directly or indirectly.
Myth #3: “Suicide usually happens without warning.” Reality: Typically, there are many warning signs. The ability to recognize them is crucial.
Myth #4: “Suicidal people are fully intent on dying.” Reality: Most are very torn about living or dying. They don’t want to end their life…just their pain, and they see no other way to accomplish that.
When a Young Person is in Immediate Danger Stay as close to any young person that you feel is in danger as they will let you. Most won’t fight you. Remember, they’re torn because part of them may resent the help, and usually the bigger part of them is very relieved. Call for assistance from loved ones and others that they and you trust. Resources to contact for immediate danger:
- Call 911
- Drive to your nearest Emergency Room
- Contact Pine Grove at 601-288-CARE (2273) as we are open 24-hours a day.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Common Characteristics of the Suicidal Adolescent
- Mixed feelings about living and dying; not wanting to die, but not wanting to continue feeling their pain either. Realizing this ambivalence (and beginning to feel connected to someone who cares) is the most common turning point in their decision not to go through with it.
- Attempts to let someone know that they are considering suicide. Approximately 8 out of 10 people who have killed themselves have made some kind of statement expressing these thoughts and desires.
- Do assess for planning. Ask them if they’ve ever thought about how they would do it. This gives you an idea about how seriously they’ve been considering it. The more detailed and specific the plan, the higher the risk. Remember, stay calm.
- Mood and Behavior Changes(depression, irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, social withdrawal, grades dropping, lost interest, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness, crying, etc.)
- Maladaptive Coping Overall. Many teens have no idea about healthy ways to cope and/or have little to no emotional support from family/ friends.
Other High Risk Factors:
- Being male (Males are 4 times more likely to die because their methods tend to be more lethal. Females are less likely to die but do make 3 times more attempts.)
- History of mental illness
- Previous attempts or threats
- Having lost loved ones to suicide
- Acute or chronic losses (relational, social, physical)
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Easy access to lethal methods
Warning Signs (Observable):
- Behavior (Depression Symptoms – see above) as well as what they actually say/report (talking about it, subtle comments, “jokes” or statements that give off that vibe, i.e., “Sometimes I wonder if everyone would be better off without me around” and “Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?”
- Taking sudden interest in or losing their interest in religion/spirituality
- Obtaining a gun
- Stockpiling meds
- Giving away personal possession
When You Feel Your Teenager is at Risk
- DO let them know that you care by talking openly about it in a calm manner and with as few words as possible. Tell them what you’ve noticed and why it concerns you. Ask them directly if they ever think about suicide. LISTEN and don’t wig out! Overreacting is the quickest way to keep your teen from sharing themselves.
- DO use the words “dying,” “suicide,” “killing yourself,” “ending your life,” etc. DON’T minimize, “blow it off” or change the subject.
- DO assess for planning. Ask them if they’ve ever thought about how they would do it. This gives you an idea about how seriously they’ve been considering it. The more detailed/specific the plan, the higher the risk. Remember, stay calm.
- DO bury any adult/parental pride… DON’T argue or shame them about their feelings or pressure them to listen to you and follow your suggestions. This makes them “seal off” as well. However, DO share your thoughts/feelings on any distorted perceptions they seem to have about their situation, using a style similar to one you’d use with someone you really admired, and then only AFTER listening to them calmly/quietly. This brings them to their maximum “open-and-listening-to-you” level.
- DON’T try to force any “reasons for living” clichés on them. This tells them loud and clear that you don’t understand, and aren’t really trying to. Your reasons for living are yours. The ultimate goal is for a person to find their own.
- DO encourage them to talk confidentially to a professional counselor. Normalize it as something everyone could use at times and offer to help them find the one they feel comfortable with. Assure them that you will stay out of it.
- DO try to “contract” with them. Ask them to promise that they will talk to you before acting on any impulses they may have in the future. Make your own promise not to overreact.