Identifying Suicidal Behavior in Children and Teens

Profile of a sad person on benchSuicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Teenagers are at greater risk of completing suicide because they can act impulsively, without considering all of the consequences. Currently, more men die from suicide, while more women attempt suicide. In the United States, approximately 18 per 100,000 males complete suicide each year, and four per 100,000 females complete suicide each year.

Suicide affects the entire community in which it occurs: family, friends, teachers, neighbors, acquaintances. Everyone is touched by the loss of anyone to suicide. However, suicide can be preventable and with the knowledge of signs, symptoms, and appropriate responses, people’s lives can be saved.

Several risk factors correlate toward a person committing suicide, including severe illness, depression, hopelessness, substance abuse, and problem gambling.

If you are concerned about someone that may be suicidal, seek help immediately. Warning signs that can indicate imminent risk include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill self
  • Looking for ways to kill self; seeking access to pills, weapons or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life

The next step can be the hardest. Ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” You may feel embarrassed or scared that by asking, you could give them the idea to kill themselves. However, by asking this question you can start the conversation that could lead to your child or teen getting the help they need. By asking about their intentions, you are offering them a means of coping with whatever difficulties they’re struggling with—a means of coping that’s an alternate to suicide. Listen and allow the person to express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Now is not the time to tell your child or teen what to do, but instead to receive information and help them seek help.

Hopelessness about the present and future are strong predictors for suicidal ideation. All suicidal ideation and threats need to be taken seriously. Ask the individual what the problem is and what could help them solve it. Get them actively engaged in thinking about solutions to their problems that do not involve killing themselves.

If your child shows signs that make you concerned about their safety, get help as soon as possible. Call 911, go to the nearest emergency room or psychiatric hospital, call a local mental health professional, or your pediatrician.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.  Help and hope are available.

© Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Gallup. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nolan

    February 1st, 2011 at 2:26 AM

    Wow,5 out of those things hold good about me!I do not consider suicide but I am scared whether what I’m doing is right or wrong,whether I’m heading in the right direction.Its like I’m a little paranoid but I have never had the thought of suicide.Could it be that something like that is actually building up inside of me?

  • Sabrina

    February 1st, 2011 at 5:37 AM

    Oh my gosh I always thought that the hardest conversations that I would have to have with my children would be the ones revolving around the facts of life. But to know that so many young children and teens have considering ending those precious lives is very disturbing to me, and as a parent I want to know how I could have my children avoid those issues that may drive them to making that kind of decisions. This is a scary time, with bullying on the rise, and I truly believe that that is the reason that so many kids choose suicide. What can we do to prevent all of this violence and anger that so many of our young kids seem to turn to more and more frequently?


    February 1st, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    As a parent of two teens,I try and stay connected with my children. Connected-not in the sense of constantly calling them or spying on their calls or anything but connected-by being aware of what they’re up to by talking to them and ensuring that they can afford to be open to me about anything.

    Kids respond well to this behavior of mine and its just great because whenever there is an issue I’m aware of it and can guide hem,not as a parent,but as a caring and genuine friend.

  • Nikki

    February 2nd, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    Paying attention to your child is critical.
    Not everything is just “going through a phase.”
    You know your child better than anyone else.
    You know when there is something going on that needs to be addressed.
    Do your job as a parent, know your kids and what they are like, and get them help when you know deep down inside that they need it.

  • mike

    February 2nd, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Depression isn’t a problem you can ignore and hope that it just goes away. You also need to look at yourself as a parent, hard as it is, when trying to find out what they feel suicidal over. Are you making them get straight A’s in school and flipping out if they get a B? Do you place expectations that are too high on your child for their age or their intelligence? When you do, then you are part of the problem.

  • Gordon

    February 2nd, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Teen suicide is an almost taboo subject amongst parents. I feel the majority prefer to wallow in denial, telling themselves “it won’t happen to my child”. Parents, you are wrong. It can happen, and it maybe even will happen if you keep ignoring the signs as they come up.

    If they are suicidal, you need to listen to them and help them deal with and find answers to the problems. Trying to shirk that responsibility makes you a failure as a parent IMHO. It’s not an easy conversation but it’s imperative you have it with them if you feel they are a suicide risk. Who knows? Just knowing you care enough to ask could be enough to stop them.

  • Jeffrey Gallup MA LPC

    February 3rd, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Teen and child suicide is a very difficult subject. It can feel as if it is impossible to ask your child if they are thinking about killing themselves. Take a moment and do so, you could be saving their lives.

  • Hayley

    February 3rd, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    I’ve read newspaper stories where teenagers who are happy with their lives, do well in school, have friends, and don’t touch drugs and alcohol then just kill themselves out of nowhere. What do we do in that instance? The fact they can just kill themselves without showing any signs at all makes me very worried. I’d never forgive myself if my child did that.

  • Russell

    February 5th, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    That’s a good question, Hayley. How can you save them if there are absolutely no indicators of their intentions? Or perhaps the signs are there and we aren’t recognizing them for what they are.

    Here’s another thought. Could it be that some parents don’t want to acknowledge seeing the indicators because then they would need to deal with it? Parents can be cowards sometimes or so fearful that addressing it will push the teen over the age from contemplation of suicide into action.

  • madison

    February 5th, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    I hate to break it to y’all, but not every parent is such a guiding light, always happy to listen to their child and help them. I wish that was the case. Unfortunately some are extremely neglectful of their own children’s emotional, mental and physical needs. Others that would consider themselves “good parents” do nothing beyond providing the physical needs ie giving them a roof over their head and their dinner, and that’s it. They take no interest in their teens until they get into trouble and then it’s all shock horror. Still others find it hard to demonstrate how much their son or daughter is loved. When there’s no real connection there and the parents are hard to talk to, how can you expect the teen to have spoken to them? How can a teen approach them without it all blowing up in their face?

  • Rowena

    February 5th, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    It breaks my heart to think about a young person feeling that despondent. We’ve always talked about our feelings, good or bad, since I was very small and I do the same with my own children. In fact they joke that I ask them to do it too much, but deep down I don’t think they mind really and are glad we do. We can’t possibly know what’s going on in a teen’s mind all the time, although if we really try we can make an educated guess.

  • ceri

    September 20th, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    I have cut all my body I have thought of stabbing myself and I choked myself until I passed out but I stayed strong as I thought there must be some reason why im here even if my mum says I was a mistake

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