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Suicide Among Youth

What's the Problem?

Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects many young people. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.

Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of high school students in the United States found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are treated Emergency Departments across the U.S. for self-inflicted injuries.

Who's at Risk?

Suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940's. Several factors can put a young person at risk for suicide; however, having risk factors does not always mean that a young person will attempt suicide. Risk factors include: family history of suicide; history of depression, other mental health problems, or incarceration; easy access to lethal means; alcohol and drug use; exposure to previous suicidal behavior by others; and residential mobility that might lessen opportunities for developing healthy social connections and supports.

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Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys. Native American/Alaskan Native youth have the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey high school students in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.

Can It Be Prevented?

A number of prevention efforts are focused at detecting suicide warning signs. Signals that a young person may be contemplating suicide imminently include: Thinking or talking about or threatening suicide; seeking a way to kill oneself; increased substance abuse; feelings of purposelessness, anxiety, being trapped, or hopeless; withdrawing from people and activities; and expressing unusual anger, recklessness, or mood changes.

Prevention efforts take many forms, such as general suicide awareness education, school and community gatekeeper programs, screening and peer support programs, crisis centers and hotlines, restriction of access to lethal means, counseling and clinical interventions, and postvention (intervention with friends/family/community after a suicide takes place). Adults who supervise a young person can help prevent suicide by knowing the risk factors and warning signs, asking a youth they are concerned about if he/she has been thinking about suicide, and if necessary, providing a referral and making sure the person gets appropriate help as soon as possible.

Tips for Scripts

  • INFORM viewers of the risk factors and warning signs that suggest suicide risk and how to respond.
  • ENCOURAGE viewers to familiarize themselves with community resources, such as mental health centers, school programs, or other intervention resources.
  • PROMOTE factors that protect youth from suicide, such as social connectedness.
  • PROVIDE the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and explain this puts people in touch with a local crisis center. Anyone can call—someone who feels suicidal or in distress or someone who is worried about a friend/family member.

Case Examples

  1. A mother watches her teenage son Chip grow more withdrawn over the course of several months. She begins to worry about his overall well-being as he isn’t acting like himself lately. Her attempts to ask him what is wrong are unsuccessful. He won’t talk to her. She decides to call a local crisis center for teens. A professional counselor explains the warning signs of suicide. The mother, fearful that Chip may already be contemplating such an act, takes him to the crisis center. She hopes an initial visit will offer him an outlet for his feelings.
  2. Students begin a new high school health education class where the instructor discusses plans to include mental health issues in the curriculum. The instructor then discusses teenage suicide. She describes changes in teenagers’ emotional states, behavior, or personalities that may indicate risk of suicide . The students realize that they have learned an invaluable lesson-- they can identify risk factors associated with suicide risk and they know how to respond to a friend in distress.
  • Page last reviewed: February 23, 2011
  • Page last updated: August 1, 2013
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