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When Your Teen is in Trouble with the Law









Teen Suicide

by Dr. Richard O'Connor,

author of Undoing Depression :What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You


Help, Support, Prevention  -  More Information  -  Hotlines & Helplines

Emotional Health  -  Teen Depression  -  Bipolar Disorder



Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people between the ages of 15 and 24 after motor vehicle accidents and homicides.


The incidence of teen suicide rose in four years from representing 6.7 percent of each 100,000 adolescent deaths in 2003 to 9.4 percent in 2007, according to the most recent figures released in September 2007 by the National Centers for Disease Control.





No one has advanced a good theory explaining why teens are taking their own lives in greater numbers, but it's important for everyone to be aware of the problem.


Research has found that the major risk factors of suicide among young people are depression, substance abuse, behavior problems, availability of a gun, previous suicide attempts, a family history of depression or substance abuse, and a recent traumatic event




Depression is often not recognized.  In younger children and in adolescent boys, it may seem that the child is simply angry or sullen.


If this lasts more than a week or so with no relief, and if there are other signs of depression changes in appetite, activity level, sleep pattern; loss of interest in activities that normally give pleasure; social withdrawal; thoughts of death or punishment it should be taken seriously.


Signs of developing depression in teens include:

  • Unhappiness

  • Gradual withdrawal into helplessness and apathy

  • Isolated behavior

  • Drop in school performance

  • Loss of interest in activities that formerly were sources of enjoyment

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness

  • Fatigue or lack of energy or motivation

  • Change in sleep habits

  • Change in eating habits

  • Self-neglect

  • Preoccupation with sad thoughts or death

  • Loss of concentration

  • Increase in physical complaints

  • Sudden outbursts of temper

  • Reckless or dangerous behavior

  • Increased drug or alcohol abuse

  • Irritability; restlessness

Parents are bound to have trouble understanding a depressed teen's confusing signals; after all, who does not want to think of their child as happy and confident.  But parents must pay attention to serious depression; the risks are too great if they don't.


Substance abuse


Sometimes teens try alcohol or other drugs to relieve depression.  Unfortunately the drugs themselves have a depressant effect, and lower inhibitions against self-injurious behavior.  Some young people who have never expressed a suicidal thought have taken their own lives when they got drunk to ease the pain of a disappointment or loss.  But they only felt worse while drunk, and committed a rash, impulsive act which they wouldn't have done sober.


Behavior problems


Getting in trouble in school or with the law, fighting with parents, and other behavior problems are the third risk factor for suicide.  We tend to think of potential suicides as sensitive, shy people who are overwhelmed by life.  We don't see the cocky, obnoxious adolescent as potentially self-destructive, even though his behavior continually getting in trouble, keeping the world at arm's length has exactly that effect.


I recently re-read The Catcher in the Rye and was amazed to see Holden Caulfield, whom I had so identified myself with, from my now-adult perspective.  Though I still felt sympathetic, I was struck by how depressed and self-destructive his behavior seemed.


Availability of a gun


This makes the consequences of an impulsive act much more lethal.  Surprisingly, even when a child has made one attempt, parents often fail to remove guns from the home.  How many fatal, impulsive decisions have been aided by the presence of a handgun in the home?


If you have a gun in your home, you are

FIVE times more likely to have a suicide

in your house than homes without a gun.


It is also important to limit the person's access to large amounts of medication, or other lethal means of committing suicide.


Previous suicide attempts


Half of all children who have made one suicide attempt will make another, sometimes as many as two a year until they succeed.  The majority of suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress and not just harmless bids for attention.


Other factors


Other factors include a family history of depression or substance abuse, and a recent traumatic event


Some children who take their own lives are indeed the opposite of the rebellious teen.  They are anxious, insecure kids who have a desperate desire to be liked, to fit in, to do well.  Their expectations are so high that they demand too much of themselves, so are condemned to constant disappointment.


A traumatic event, which can seem minor viewed from an adult perspective, is enough to push them over the edge into a severe depression.  Being jilted, failing a test, getting into an accident they have the sense that their life is a delicate balance, and one failure or disappointment seems to threaten the whole house of cards.





No talk of suicide should be taken lightly.  It indicates the need for immediate professional help.  Any suicidal gesture, no matter how "harmless" it seems, demands immediate professional attention.


Risk getting involved. If you suspect suicidal thoughts or behavior, ask the teen directly if she or he is considering suicide. Don't avoid the subject or wait for the teen to come to you.


Be alert to the teen's feelings. The severity of the problem should be judged from the teen's perception, not by adult standards.  If a teen perceives something as a problem, it is a problem for him or her.


Never agree to keep the discussion of suicide with a teen a secret.  Agree to give help and support in getting professional help.


Never leave a suicidal person alone.  Get help!


Imminent danger signs include:

  • Talking about death and wanting to die

  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, or fantasies

  • Previous suicide attempts

  • Friends who have attempted suicide

  • Giving away personal possessions

  • Telling a friend about suicidal plans

  • Writing a note

Prevent Suicide


Adults can help prevent suicide by fostering open, honest communication with teens.  If a teen trusts you enough to come to you with a problem, take time to listen immediately.  Delay may only fuel feelings of doom in the teen. 


The following strategies may be helpful when dealing with teens and suicide:

  • Talk about suicide in an open manner. Teens need to be given a chance to discuss suicide by voicing their thoughts and opinions. Candid discussion is important particularly when a teen suicide has occurred in a community.

  • Let young people know about hotline telephone numbers and crisis intervention services that are accessible locally.

  • Model healthy behavior and positive problem-solving approaches. Adults can be models for young people by dealing with their own stress in a constructive manner.

  • Use television shows, films, newspaper articles and other media as a trigger for a discussion of effective ways to deal with stress and depression.

  • Provide opportunities for group support. Teens sharing problems with other teens who help find solutions can be beneficial.

Adults need to take the possibility of teen suicide seriously even if their community has not experienced one. Teen depression and thoughts of suicide are more common than many adults assume and there are as many as 50 to 100 suicide attempts for every young person who actually takes his or her own life.




Suicide:  Read This First


A Letter to Any Suicidal Young Person



If you have a gun in your home,

you are FIVE times more likely

to have a suicide in your house

than homes without a gun.



Hotlines & Helplines


Local crisis hotline numbers can be found in the front of your local phone book, on your state's Family Help page, or call 911 for emergency help.


National HopeLine

24 hours a day - 7 days a week




National Suicide Prevention LifeLine

24 hours a day - 7 days a week




Suicide & Crisis Hotlines Around the World




How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me:  One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention

by Susan Rose Blauner

An international epidemic, suicide has touched the lives of nearly half of all Americans, yet is rarely talked about openly.  Susan Blauner, a survivor of multiple suicide attempts, breaks the silence to offer guidance and hope for those contemplating ending their lives and for their loved ones.  Here is an essential resource destined to be the classic guide on the subject of suicide.  A portion of the book's proceeds will go to the National Hopeline Network  (1-800-SUICIDE).



Help, Support, Prevention


American Association of Suicidology ~ A resource for anyone concerned about suicide, including suicide researchers, therapists, prevention specialists, survivors of suicide, and people who are themselves in crisis.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ~ Directory of survivor support groups.


Befrienders International ~ Worldwide volunteer action to prevent suicide.


Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention ~ Information and advocacy.


Compassionate Friends ~ National self-help support organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved families.


The Jason Foundation ~ Nationally recognized leader in teen suicide awareness and prevention offering free informative, educational materials and programs.


The Jed Foundation ~ Committed to reducing the young adult suicide rate and improving mental health support provided to college students nationwide. is the Foundations' web-based mental health resource for college students.


Make A Difference For Kids ~ This organization, dedicated to the awareness and prevention of cyberbullying and suicide, was created in memory of Rachael Neblett, and Kristin Settles, two Mt. Washington, Kentucky teens who died as the result of suicide.


My Son Sean ~ The tragic story of preteen suicide the fastest growing segment of suicide rates and what parents and communities can do to prevent it. ~ Information and resources, including an extensive list of suicide survivor support groups.


Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) ~ Public awareness and education, resources.


The Suicide Information & Education Centre (SIEC) ~ Special library and resource centre providing information on suicide and suicidal behavior, including suicide statistics for Canada.


Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN) ~ Suicide prevention organization dedicated to leveraging grassroots support among suicide survivors (those who have lost a loved one to suicide) and others to advance public policies that help prevent suicide.


Survivors of Suicide ~ Support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.


Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program ~ Suicide awareness, prevention, and support.



More Information


About Suicide: Facts and Figures ~ In 2007, there were 34,598 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.  Nationally, the suicide rate increased 3 percent from 11.2 suicides per 100,000 population in 2006 to 11.5 in 2007. 


Goth subculture shows its dark side through self-harm and suicide rate ~ A study by researchers at the University of Glasgow, published in the British Medical Journal, indicates that almost half of teenagers who identify with the Goth subculture have attempted suicide or otherwise tried to hurt themselves.


'Huffing' Household Chemicals Connected To Teen Suicide ~ A University of Denver study reveals inhaling or "huffing" vapors of common household goods, such as glue or nail polish, are associated with increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.


Online groups promote suicide ~ Newsgroups that promote suicide work something like an online bulletin board.  Anyone with a computer and some basic Internet knowledge can gain free access to thousands of messages about suicide, including tips on the best and worst ways to take one's life.


Preventing Suicide ~ Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) including fact sheets, statistics, suicide trends, and suicide prevention activities.


Suicide and the Agony of Separateness ~ The hidden danger in having a separative outlook is that, while it appears to serve our best interests in the short run, it can eventually lead us into that dreaded and all-too-common ailment, loneliness.  The very attitudes that maximize our own feelings of importance and minimize the roles played by others are the same attitudes which, when the chips are down, trap us in a cocoon of self-pity or self-destructive desire for oblivion.


Suicide Attempts and Suicide Deaths Subsequent to Discharge from an Emergency Department or an Inpatient Psychiatry Unit (pdf) ~ Suicide risk does not end at the moment of discharge.  Rather, elevated risk continues or is easily rekindled in the days and weeks that follow, leading to heightened rates of suicide during this post acute care period.


Suicide attempts by teens linked to assault ~ High school girls who have recently experienced dating violence and boys who have a history of being sexually assaulted are at increased risk of attempting suicide.


The Suicide Paradigm ~ This excellent site is for suicide survivors and others who want to know more about the reality of suicide and suicide loss.


What can I do to help someone who may be suicidal? ~ Nine ways to help a suicidal person.


When a Child's Friend Dies by Suicide ~ Unanswered questions and complicated feelings about a suicide linger, even if they are unspoken, and ignoring them does not make them go away. Talking about suicide can't plant the idea in your child's head. On the contrary, talking creates an open forum for discussion of difficult subjects like suicide and will give your child the opportunity to recognize you as someone who will listen and can be trusted.


Focus Adolescent Services