For Families > Keeping Kids Healthy > Suicide: The Teenage and Young Adult Tragedy

Suicide: The Teenage and Young Adult Tragedy

By Anita Gurian, Ph.D.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults. Although it’s hard to believe that teenagers and young adults could be so desperately unhappy that they would plan to kill themselves, more than 5,000 U.S. teenagers commit suicide each year. The toll of grief and suffering that suicide exacts on young people and their families is incalculable. 

According to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, important risk factors for attempted suicide in youth include depression, alcohol or other drug use, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors.  Suicidal feelings and depression are treatable mental disorders, and as we come to understand the interaction between pre-existing emotional conditions, family influence and environmental risk factors, teenagers and young adults who show suicidal behavior can be helped and tragic actions prevented.

Warning Signs of Depression and Suicidal Behavior:        

  • A marked personality change such as exhibiting angry actions or rebellious behavior, or withdrawal from friends and activities
  • A change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Involvement with drugs or alcohol or other risky behavior, such as reckless driving
  • An overreaction to a recent humiliating experience, such as a breakup
  • Difficulty in concentration and a decline in the quality of academic work
  • Persistent boredom and/or lethargy
  • Unusual neglect of physical appearance
  • Complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue
  • A pattern of giving away or throwing away possessions
  • Preoccupation with death in writing, songs or poems
  • Intolerance of praise or rewards
  • Increase in comments such as “I can’t take it anymore” or “Nobody cares; I wish I was dead.”

 Other Recommended Resources: 

1-800-SUICIDE lists state and local hotline numbers to call for help, including advice for those contemplating suicide. Web site:  

American Association of Suicidology - Web site:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Web site:  

National Institute of Mental Health - Web site:

National Mental Health Association - Web site:  

Suicide Prevention Resource Center - Web site: