Teen years are very tumultuous times for both the teens and parents alike. Being aware of the differences between depression and normal teenager behavior before a tragic outcome occurs is what every parent wants.

Teen suicides were on a decline in the 1990’s, but about five years ago the suicide rate began to rise. A report in the March 2, 2010 edition of the Kansas City Star reported that there is “no one can explain with certainty the reason for the increase, expert’s points to teens having more pressures at home and at school, financial worries for families and the increase of alcohol and drug use.”

Every 100 minutes a teen commits suicide in the United States, which means that on average 14 teens commit suicide every day. How prevalent is it really? One of the leading causes of death amongst teenagers is suicide. The Centers for Disease control report that it is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

What is rarely reported is that there is what is called a “ripple effect”, according to Dr. Fred Newton, the director of counseling services at Kansas State University. The “ripple effect means that one suicide affects at least six other people. That means the effect without counseling can be felt for years afterwards.

Causes of teen suicide

There are several different factors that made lead a teenager to take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can't handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. In some cases, teenagers believe that suicide is the only way to solve their problems. The pressures of life seem too much to cope with, and some teenagers look at suicide as a welcome escape.

Other factors that may contribute to teen suicide include:  
  • Divorce of parents.
  • Violence in the home.
  • Inability to find success at school.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Rejection by friends or peers.
  • Substance abuse. 
  • Death of someone close to the teenager. 
  • The suicide of a friend or someone he or she "knows" online.

Signs that your teenager may attempt suicide

It is important to be on the look out for signs that your teen may attempt suicide. What is so difficult about some of these warning signs of teen suicide is that some of them are similar to normal adolescent behavior. The teenage years are a trying time, and sometimes normal behavior looks a lot like possibly destructive behavior. But it doesn't hurt to look into the following warning signs of teen suicide:

  • Talks about death and/or suicide (maybe even with a joking manner).
  • Plans ways to kill him or herself.
  • Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her.
  • Has attempted suicide in the past. 
  • Dramatic changes in personality and behavior.
  • Withdraws from interacting with friends and family. 
  • Shows signs of depression. 
  • Shows signs of a substance abuse problem. 
  • Begins to act recklessly and engage in risk-taking behaviors. 
  • Begins to give away sentimental possessions. 
  • Spends time online interacting with people who glamorize suicide and maybe even form suicide pacts.

Preventing teen suicide  
Often, preventing teen suicide means treating teen depression. Since 75 % of the people who commit suicide are depressed (according to the University of Texas), it is a good start to begin by treating the symptoms of teen depression.

It is possible to get professional help in preventing teen suicide. Indeed, this is a preferred option. If you are concerned about your teenager, talk to your child's doctor about the available options and therapies for teen depression. You should see someone immediately (and never leave your teen alone) if you suspect that a suicide attempt is imminent. Some things you might try include:

Counseling. This can be done individually or as a family. Techniques allow your teenager to learn to cope with life. Often, when a teen learns how to handle problems (and families learn how to help), the desire to kill him or herself dissipates.

Residential treatment. This is treatment in which a suicidal teen goes elsewhere to live for a time. This can be a special treatment facility, or it can be a therapeutic boarding school. In these settings, the teenager is monitored 24/7 in order to prevent a suicide attempt. Additionally, most residential treatment facilities have trained professional staff that can help a suicidal teen.

Medication. This is often seen as a last resort, or as something complementary to other treatments. It is important to note that in some teenagers, medication can have the opposite effect desired; some studies show that for some teens anti-depressants actually increase the chance of teen suicide. Carefully consider your teen's needs before medicating.


It is important to treat your child with respect and understanding. Show your unconditional love, and offer emotional support. It is important that a teen considering suicide feel loved and wanted. Show your teenager that it is possible to overcome life's challenges, and make sure that he or she knows that you are willing to help out.