Suicide Prevention Tips for Youth & Young Adults

Suicide Prevention Tips for Youth & Young Adults

Preventing Youth Suicide

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. Unfortunately, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths aged 15-24. However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, friends, or any other person close to them are in a key role here to identify these signs and seek help. Most important is to never take any of these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them a secret. When everyone in the community is committed to making suicide prevention a priority-and are empowered to take the correct actions-we can help youth before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences. 

Suicide prevention is the collective effort to reduce the risk of suicide. Parents, guardians, family members, friends, teachers, school administrators, coaches, extracurricular activity leaders, mentors, service providers, and many others can play a vital role in preventing suicide and supporting youth.

What Are Suicidal Thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts refer to thinking about or planning suicide. Here, thoughts can range from creating a detailed plan about suicide to having a momentary consideration. It does not include the final act of suicide. Having suicidal thoughts does not always lead to the final act of suicide. Sometimes, people might just think –“Why should I live? I have no purpose left for a living!”, But that might just be a thought. It does not always end up in an action. Many youths may experience suicidal thoughts, especially during stress or when they are facing any physical, mental, emotional, financial, or any other challenges. Suicidal thoughts may include frequent thoughts about death and dying, spending time thinking about various ways to die, believing you don’t deserve this life, or wishing you could simply stop living. 

There are a few signs which can indicate that a person may be having suicidal thoughts. A few examples are: expressing feelings and thoughts of despair, sadness, or worthlessness, and not caring about themselves which includes physical appearance and hygiene. Some of the other signs include: feeling unmotivated to take part in activities that were once enjoyed, withdrawing from family, friends, and others, giving personal belongings away, etc. A “tipping point” may be an event or trigger that may set off a person’s vulnerability and lead to thoughts possibly becoming suicidal behaviors.

Youth & Young Adults Suicide Facts

Suicides among young people continue to be a serious problem for many years. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults aged 15-to-24-year-olds. In an average day, there are more than 5200 suicide attempts made by middle and high school students. Most of the time students just think about committing suicide more than those who attempt it. Suicidal thoughts are common among teens and young adults. About 11% of young adults (ages 18-25) report that they’ve had serious thoughts about suicide, and about 1–2% report a suicide attempt during the prior year. These numbers are higher among high school students — nearly 20% report serious thoughts about suicide and 9% report a suicide attempt. Among young adults 15–24 years old in the U.S., the rate of death by suicide in 2019 was about 14 per 100,000 people — slightly higher than one suicide for every 10,000 people in this age group. Worldwide, more than 800,000 people die due to suicide each year. It is estimated that about 1.5 million people will die due to suicide by the year 2020. 

The majority of children and adolescents who attempt suicide, often have a significant mental health disorder, most commonly depression. Among younger children, suicide attempts are often impulsive. They may be associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity. Among teenagers, suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems. 

Preventing Teenage Suicide: Suicide Warning Signs

It has been estimated that 80 percent of youths who commit suicide may have shown some signs before they tried to kill themselves or make an attempt to do so. But not all of these warning signs may have offered a clear indication of their intentions. This means that in a few cases we may have an opportunity to identify and offer help to these teens.

A few warning signs of teenage suicide may include – 

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Being extremely sad, anxious, agitated
  • Unbearable emotional or physical pain 
  • Being in a great guilt 
  • Being ashamed of self
  • Making a plan about dying 
  • Finding various ways to die
  • Withdrawing self from friends, family
  • Giving away important items 
  • Making a will 
  • Telling others to imagine their lives without him/her
  • Telling others about how empty their lives are
  • Talking about being a burden to others 
  • Feeling trapped, helpless, hopeless, empty 
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Harming themselves
  • Changes in food and sleep habits 
  • Using drugs or alcohol more often 
  • Making statements like, “You would be better off without me” or “I wish I were dead
  • Random statements such as, “You won’t have to worry about me anymore,” “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up,” or “I just can’t take it anymore”
  • Writing suicidal notes 
  • Changes in appearance, and hygiene. 

If you observe any of these warning signs in your loved ones, encourage them to seek professional help. If they refuse, be consistent. Support them as much as you can. Do not leave them alone and talk with them as much as you can. Use positive statements. Do not underestimate their feelings and don’t even make it a big issue. Be neutral. Try to listen to them and understand them as much as you can. Avoid statements like – “How can you feel it?” or” Stop thinking about it! It’s wrong”, etc. 

Teenage Suicide Causes and Risk Factors

Some people think that when teens talk about committing suicide, they just want to seek the attention of the adults around them, and they should be ignored. But, it’s not always true. Any talk about suicide should be taken seriously. 

Suicide may have many causes. Most commonly, a suicide attempt is a result of feeling like an inability to cope with overwhelming life situations. Mostly, teens think that suicide is an option when they don’t see the future. Mostly, teens may experience tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis they believe suicide is the only way out. Studies also show that there also may be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide. It’s almost impossible to predict whether a young adult might become suicidal.

But some things put them at a higher risk. Such risk factors may include –

  • History of suicide
  • Mental health conditions 
  • Loss of a loved one (Death of a loved one or break-up in a relationship, divorce of parents)
  • Financial loss due to their mistake 
  • Self-related issues 
  • Overuse of social media or online games 
  • Peer pressure 
  • Struggling to find their sexual orientation 
  • Non-supportive social support or lack of social support 
  • Access to lethal means like pills, firearms  
  • Sexual abuse or violence 
  • Changes in sleep, weight, and appetite 
  • Previous suicidal attempts 
  • Loneliness, hopelessness, helplessness 
  • Bullying 
  • Stigma associated with seeking help

9 Things Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Suicide

As children grow into pre-teens and teenagers, it becomes more challenging for parents to know what they are thinking and feeling. But, knowing your child well is crucial to develop a healthy relationship between you and the child. Parents play a key role in preventing suicide in youths. Parents and family members can help pre-teens and teens cope when life feels too difficult to handle.

Here are 10 things parents can do to help prevent suicide – 

1. Listen to the child 

Listening to your child non-judgementally helps a lot. It makes children open up better. Non-verbal cues are also important here. Sometimes, the child may not be speaking about his thoughts loudly. But, the child might be speaking a lot through non-verbal cues like maintaining eye contact, gestures, postures, etc. Try to listen to the child carefully and open him up about thoughts in his mind. 

2. Don’t overreact 

If the child opens up about his/her feelings about suicide, try to be calm. Overreacting about it will make the child’s feelings worse and there are chances that the child won’t open up about any of the feelings again in the future. 

3. Don’t consider it as “Drama” to seek attention 

Many a time, parents think that the child is just creating drama to seek attention. Never assume the child is exaggerating or playing games if they say or write things such as – “I want to die”, “I wonder how will people feel after I leave this world”, etc. Never assume that the child won’t do anything and that he/she is just creating drama. Instead, Sit down and talk with them quietly.

4. Show empathy 

If your child is talking or writing about suicide, you may feel shocked, hurt, or angry. You may even want to deny what you’re seeing or argue with your child. These feelings are natural and valid, but it’s essential to focus on your child’s needs first and foremost. Your goal is to create a safe space where your teen can trust you to listen and express concern, but without judgment or blame. Instead of reacting this way: That’s a ridiculous thing to say.”“You have a great life – why would you end it?”“You don’t mean that.” or “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!”; try saying “It sounds like you’re in tremendous pain and you can’t see a way out.”“Maybe you’re wondering how life got this complicated and difficult.” or “Right now, you’re not sure of the answers to the problems you’re facing.”“You must be hurting inside to consider ending your life.”Get professional help – If your child is self-harming, or you sense they’re at risk for attempting suicide, take them to the counselor. Immediate action is crucial when things have reached a crisis point. Even if you see signs of suicidal thoughts but don’t sense an immediate crisis, you still need to take action immediately. It’s always better to seek help early.

5. Talk with your child about suicide 

Talking to your teen about a topic like suicide can seem almost impossible. But, discussing it is crucial. So, than avoiding it, it’s better to address the elephant in the room. Try talking in a calm, non-accusatory way. Express your concern with them well. Show them that you love them in all conditions. Convey how important is s/he to them. 

6. Take preventive measures 

It is necessary to guard your child against the possibility of suicide. For that, taking preventive measures is essential. Try to increase your child’s involvement in sports or clubs; Be aware of the teen’s social life. E.g. – His friends, teammates, coaches, etc. and communicate regularly with them. Limit their access to alcohol, drugs, knives, guns, sleeping tablets, etc. Also, limit their screen time and be watchful of what they are watching. Social media can spread a lot of negativity which can lead to suicidal thoughts as well. 

7. Be Vigilant 

Be vigilant about what your child is doing and about the sudden changes in behavior. Observe all the minute changes as well and talk with the child about them. Do not leave your child alone. 

8. Take Threats Seriously 

Whether a youth has “genuine” suicidal intent or not, take all suicidal threats seriously. Don’t trivialize any suicidal threat. In many instances, the threat is a cry for help. If this is ignored, the youth may decide to act out his/her threat. It is much safer to be cautious.

9. Know The Risk Factors

Recognizing the risk factors will make the parents vigilant and pay more attention to the child’s actions Recognize the situations and conditions that are associated with an increased risk of suicide in teens. Do not ignore any of such risk factors. A few of the risk factors can be previous suicide attempt(s), any mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., alcohol and other substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, loneliness, worthlessness, low self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, or activities previously enjoyed, sudden aggressive behavior, bullying others or being a bully in social settings, disruptive behavior, high-risk behaviors (drinking and driving, doing adventurous sports without taking safety measures), recent/serious loss such as the death of a loved one, broken romantic relationship, etc., sexual abuse, sexual orientation and identity confusion, access to firearms, pills, knives or illegal drugs. These can be considered risk factors. It’s better to address them in time to prevent your child from suicide. 

Teen Suicide Prevention: Treatment Approaches

Youth suicide might be prevented by earlier recognition and treatment of mental illness. Earlier detection and treatment of a mental illness are the most important ways families can reduce morbidity and mortality for youth who are considering suicide as an option. In such cases, prevention and screening play a vital role, considering that parents are unaware of 90% of suicide attempts made by their teenagers. There are multiple treatment approaches to deal with teen suicide. The approach differs from case to case.

Following are the few treatment approaches for suicide –

1. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a manualized, cognitive-behavioral therapy that includes individual therapy, family therapy, family skills training, and telephone coaching as well. DBT was designed for the treatment of adult patients with chronic suicidal ideation diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The goal of DBT is to help individuals develop more effective behavioral, emotional, and interpersonal patterns. It emphasizes the development of four skills: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion regulation, and Distress tolerance. Studies show that DBT helps reduce one or more of the following outcomes: Suicidal ideation, Self-harm (non-suicidal), Self-harm (intent unknown), or Suicide attempts.

2. Attachment-based family therapy (ABFT)

ABFT is a manualized family therapy model specially designed to treat depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescents. This therapy seeks to protect adolescents against suicidal ideation and risk behaviors by improving family processes and repairing or building secure parent-child bonds. ABFT is designed to treat youth aged 12 to 25 and engages family members of all ages in treatment. The treatment has been useful for adolescents with diverse gender, sexual, racial, and cultural identities, in addition to adolescents with a history of sexual abuse. Studies have shown that ABFT is useful in reducing suicidal ideations. 

3. Psychopharmacologic Treatment

Sometimes, a suicide attempt is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of instability or mental illness which is there deeply buried. The mental disorder needs to be cured and for that, using medicines can be the way out. Antidepressant treatments are common in suicidal/self-harming youths. 

4. Multisystemic Therapy

Psychiatric (MST-Psych) – MST-Psych is specifically designed for adolescents with high-risk symptoms, such as suicidal, self-injurious, and aggressive behavior. Treatment focuses on improving caregiver and family functioning and working with the family to address risk factors present in the systems with which the adolescent interacts. The study shows a significant reduction in suicide attempts. 

5. Safe Alternatives for Teens and Youth (SAFETY)

SAFETY is a 12-week family-oriented treatment designed to build skills, increase safety, and reduce the risk of suicide attempts. It enhances protective factors and reduces risk factors within individual youth, families, and other social systems. Study shows a reduction in suicidal ideation, non-suicidal self-harm, and suicide attempts as well. The program is designed in a total of 4 phases. 

6. Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I-CBT)

 I-CBT uses training to address suicidal behaviors and co-occurring substance use disorders among adolescents, as well as common mental health conditions (e.g., depression, conduct problems) that may interfere with treatment progress. The intervention extends 12 months and consists of three treatment phases involving individual, family, and parent training sessions. Therapy shows a reduction in suicide attempts. 

7. Youth Nominated Support Team Intervention for Suicidal Adolescents

Version II (YST-II) – YST-II is a psychoeducational social support program designed for adolescents hospitalized in a psychiatric unit who have recently reported a suicide attempt or serious suicidal ideation. The study shows a significant reduction in suicidal ideation. 

8. Hospitalization

Consider hospitalization if necessary. If it is deemed that there is currently a substantial risk of suicide, a referral can be made to an inpatient psychiatry unit, preferably a youth psychiatry unit. This option is considered in a few extreme cases only. 

Youth Suicide Prevention FAQs

Q1. What Makes Teens Vulnerable To Suicide?

Teens are by nature extremely vulnerable to mental health problems, especially during the years of adolescence. This phase in their lives is characterized by changes and transitions from one state into another, in several domains at the same time. They are neither considered an adult nor as a child. They have to make decisions about directions in life, for example, their career, the stream they want to choose, peer group, etc. They must also address new challenges about building their own identity, developing self-esteem, acquiring increasing independence and responsibility, building new intimate relationships, etc. In the meantime they are subject to ongoing, changing psychological and physical processes themselves. And besides that, they are often confronted with high expectations from parents, relatives, and peers. Such situations inevitably provoke a certain degree of helplessness, insecurity, stress, and a sense of losing control. They sometimes think that suicide is the only option because of a lack of knowledge and freedom to talk about it with family members. The stigma related to going to the therapist is also there which makes them vulnerable to consider suicide as an option. 

Q2. What Are The Risk Factors For Teen Suicide?

The following factors may increase the risk of suicide or attempted suicide. However, these risk factors do not always lead to suicide.

  • Mental disorders
  • Substance-abuse disorder 
  • Feeling hopeless 
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling detached and isolated from friends, peers, and family
  • Family history of suicide, mental illness
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to a weapon in the home
  • Following someone with suicidal behavior, such as a family member, friend, or celebrity
  • Coping with one’s sexual identity in an unsupportive family, community, or hostile school environment
  • Inability to find one’s sexual identity. 

Q3. What Should I Do If I Suspect My Teen Is Suicidal?

If you as a parent suspect that your teen is suicidal, the first thing to do is talk with the child openly. Know why your child is feeling the same and go to the root cause of the problem. If you feel that your child is not opening up to you freely, give them the suicide helpline number in India which is 9152987821. You can also seek professional help, especially from a mental health practitioner. Along with that, there are a lot of organizations that are working toward suicide prevention. You can seek their help as well.

Indeed, it is not easy for parents to accept that their teenager is emotionally troubled, thinking about suicide, or has attempted suicide earlier. Many times, parents tend to blame themselves and ask many “if only” and “why” questions to themselves. Professional assistance is frequently required for not only teenagers but also the family. The earlier you recognize it, the better! 

If you are someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide in the past or if you know anyone who might need help, we are here to help you. We, at WAITT, provide the best counseling services for suicide. Our helpline also works on 2 principles – giving people a safe space to talk without feeling shy or embarrassed and providing empathetic and non-judgemental listening. Our helpline Sakal Sobat Boluya is a mental health helpline that works 24*7 days for suicide prevention. Suicide is one of the major areas for which the helpline works. It is a free helpline, which you can reach at any time of the day and the counselor will guide you in your crisis. The hotline number is 020 71171669. The hotline is designed for you. So, you can reach out to us anytime when you need help because we are here for you!


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Sawani Oak Kale

Counselor, Team WAITT

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