Teen Suicide Warning Signs

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Recognizing teen suicide warning signs

Suicide is alarmingly common. It is the eighth leading cause of death for all people (accounting for about 1% of all deaths) and the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 (following accidents and homicide). The vast majority of suicides are related to emotional or psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and others. Unsuccessful suicide attempts also are common and outnumber actual suicides.

While boys are more likely than girls to commit suicide, teens of both genders and all ages are at risk for suicide. It is especially tragic that the three leading causes of death in teens and young adults -- accident, homicide, and suicide -- all are preventable. Parents of teens should be aware of some of the warning signs of depression and suicide. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the following signs that may signal that a depressed teen may be considering suicide:

  • withdrawal from friends and family members
  • trouble in romantic relationships
  • difficulty getting along with others
  • changes in the quality of schoolwork or lower grades
  • rebellious behaviors
  • unusual gift-giving or giving away own possessions
  • appearing bored or distracted
  • writing or drawing pictures about death
  • running away from home
  • changes in eating habits
  • dramatic personality changes
  • changes in appearance (for the worse)
  • sleep disturbances
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • talk of suicide, even in a joking way
  • having a history of previous suicide attempts

If you're concerned about how to help a depressed teen, don't be afraid to talk to him or her about the problem. It can help to reassure them that they are loved and that you are available to help work out any problems. Be a good listener, don't judge, and don't dismiss any of your teen's concerns. It's OK to directly ask if he or she has ever thought of killing him or herself. If you suspect your teen is suicidal, seek professional help immediately. Ask your pediatrician or family physician for recommendations for treatment programs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014