UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center

Teen Suicide

CausesSigns & SymptomsWhat to Do

For many, teen years are some of the most difficult in life. Our bodies go through changes; relationships become complex; we begin to learn social roles; and more than ever we're expected to grow up earlier. These changes and demands may leave a teenager feeling helpless, confused and pessimistic about the future.
Sometimes problematic circumstances, such as divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence or sexual abuse, complicate and worsen these "growing pains." Dealing with adolescence is difficult enough by itself. When other such problems are added into the mix, life can seem unbearable to the teenager, resulting in feelings of depression, destructive behavior or even suicide.

Causes

Suicide is not caused by any one factor, but likely by a combination of them. Suicide is often a result of depression, a loss of self-esteem or an inability to visualize a better future. Some contributing factors include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce of parents
  • Parental unemployment
  • Household financial problems
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Rejection by a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Lack of success at school
  • Depression

Depression is considered to be a highly common cause of suicide. About 75 percent of those individuals who commit suicide are depressed. People often mistake depression for "the blues," and therefore the illness goes untreated. Depression is caused by a number of factors, from chemical imbalances to psychological make-up to environmental influences. A teen with depression will likely display one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, total indifference and/or unreasonable guilt
  • Prolonged sadness; unexplained crying spells
  • Jumpiness or irritability
  • Withdrawal from formerly enjoyable activities or relationships
  • Inability to concentrate or remember details; indecisiveness
  • Noticeable change in appetite with sudden weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleep patterns: constant fatigue, insomnia, early waking, oversleeping
  • Physical ailments that cannot be explained otherwise

Signs and Symptoms

Most cases of suicide in teens are not impulsive. Rather, teens who attempt suicide usually do so after failing to find help or comfort from family or friends. Therefore, there is time to help a potential victim. Teens who are considering suicide will probably:

  • talk about or seem preoccupied with death; say things like "My family would be better off without me" or "I wish I were dead";
  • lose interest in important or pleasurable activities;
  • do poorly in school;
  • show signs and symptoms of depression (listed above);
  • give away important possessions, clean their rooms, throw things away;
  • neglect hygiene and self-care;
  • withdraw from relationships, family or friends;
  • behave recklessly, take high risks;
  • abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

What to Do

If you suspect someone is at risk of committing suicide, you should always take suicidal signs seriously. Ask the teen if he or she is considering suicide. Do not react with horror or disapproval, and never refuse to talk about suicide. Become involved and offer support, hope, encouragement and understanding. Never dare the teen to do it; he or she just might. Most importantly, take action immediately.

There are many resources available to help suicidal teens, including crisis intervention and agencies and crisis hotlines, support groups and psychiatric hospitals.