According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens and young adults, behind accidents and murder. Many serious – and treatable – mental illnesses feature suicidal thoughts as a symptom.
It often can be hard to tell how serious an adolescent is about suicide. The teenage years are often periods of emotional extremity. It’s a time of hormonal, social and environmental changes. Teens who come home from a bad day at school and announce they’re ready to kill themselves may be blowing off steam; teens who come home, hug their parents and quietly walk upstairs might be something else entirely.
Either way, expressing thoughts of suicide, death or simply life being meaningless are a serious sign of something wrong, especially if done in concert with substance abuse, acts of self-harm like cutting, or other disturbing behavior. Help for a suicidal teen is critical.
Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
According to Mayo Clinic, warning signs of suicidal thoughts include:
- Mood swings, including irritability and rage
- A loss of interest in activities and friends
- Isolating from family and friends
- Changing sleeping patterns
- Reckless behavior
Red Flags of Suicidal Ideation
- Expressing feelings and thoughts of being a burden to others, felling trapped and having no reason to live
- Researching methods of suicide
- Giving away prized possessions
- Calling, visiting or texting friends to say goodbye
- Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
Risk Factors For Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideation can be spurred by a multitude of physical and mental reasons. Depression disorders, including bipolar disorder, are the chief contributors to suicides in the United States. Mental health advocacy group Mental Health America warns that between 30 and 70 percent of suicidal people had a depressive disorder.
Other mental disorders, including psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, are also strong risk factors for suicide. Substance abuse disorders can contribute to suicide as well, either by amplifying the symptoms of existing mental disorders or by damaging an individual’s ability to make clear choices.
Environmental risks also drive suicides. Stress from school, relationships that went bad or a party invitation that never came can act like a line of dominoes waiting for a final push. Houses with access to firearms present a serious risk factor for suicide: The CDC reports 21,334 suicides by firearm occur each year. Additionally, a history of abuse, bullying and other trauma can also contribute to suicides.
Finally, multiple studies have shown a strong connection between genetics and suicidal behavior. People with a first-degree relative – a parent, child or sibling – who committed suicide are much more likely to attempt suicide themselves.