Although it’s hard to believe that teenagers could be so desperately unhappy that they would plan to kill themselves, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year-olds. At the present time more teens and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. As many as 8 to 25 attempted suicides result in completed suicides.
Ninety percent of adolescents who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their death. The strongest risk factors for suicide are depression, substance abuse and aggressive or disruptive behaviors.
Suicidal behavior is contagious; it is therefore imperative after a teen suicide for mental health professionals to be available in schools, camps or other places where groups of teenagers are present, to help them deal with their feelings and reactions.
Since suicide and depression are treatable mental disorders, knowing the following warning signs is critical for parents, educators, and mental health professionals.
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Declining school performance
- Nervous agitation or irritability
- Overreaction to a recent humiliating experience
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
- Violent actions, rebellious behavior or running away
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating
- Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches
- Loss of interest in activities formerly found pleasurable
A teenager planning suicide may:
· Complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside.
· Give verbal hints with statements such as:
“I won’t be a problem much longer.”
“Nothing matters; it’s no use.”
“I won’t see you again.”
- Put his or her affairs in order; give away favorite possessions, clean their room obsessively.
- Have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)
If an adolescent makes direct statements such as “I want to die” or “I want to kill myself,” the statement should always be taken seriously and assistance should be sought from a mental health professional.