Healthy Kids     Teen Health    

Youth suicide prevention

Recognize the signs

Youth suicide prevention

Children and teens can be moody, but when signs of mental health troubles last for weeks, don’t assume it’s just a passing mood.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among U.S. children, teens and young adults ages 10-24, and rates have been on the rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all teens be screened for suicide risk starting at age 12.

While no single cause has been identified, suicide is often preceded by depression that is undiagnosed or untreated. Most youth show some warning signs or behavior changes in advance. Families and their doctors can work together to identify if a child or teen is struggling with depression, anxiety or substance use, all of which increase the risk of suicide.

“Suicide is complex, but often preventable,” said Janet Lee, MD, FAAP. “When a person talks about killing themselves or feeling hopeless or trapped, it should always be taken seriously.”

Don’t be afraid to ask your child or teen to talk about their mental health or if they’re contemplating suicide. Asking directly is the best way to know what your child is thinking. Studies show that it is safe to ask about suicide risk and that asking the question will not put the idea into their head. Note that your child may initially turn away or be silent, but actions may speak louder than words. Watch for major changes in your child’s sleep patterns, appetite and social activities. Self-isolation, especially for kids who usually enjoy hanging out with friends or participating in activities, can signal serious difficulties.

“Your goal should be to create a safe space where your child can trust you to listen and express concern without judgment or blame,” Dr. Lee said.

If your child says something like “I want to die” or “I don’t care anymore,” some suggested responses are:
  • “I’m sorry you are feeling this way—can you share a bit more?”
  • “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.”
  • “Right now, you’re not sure of the answers to the problems you’re facing.”
  • “You must really, really be hurting inside to consider ending your life.”
Common causes of stress that increase the risk of suicide include major life-changing events, including the loss of a loved one to death, divorce, deployment or incarceration. Bullying, discrimination, racism and stigma surrounding mental heath or suicide can also increase risks. Children who have witnessed or are suffering violence or domestic abuse, engage in self-harming behavior or experienced a suicide in their school or friend group are also at higher risk of suicide.

Research has shown there are protective factors that help reduce the risk of suicide, including ready access to health care. Maintaining close connections to family, friends and one’s community is also important.

Parents and guardians should limit access to lethal means, such as removing firearms and locking up medications or other potential poisons or weapons in the home. Half of youth suicides occur with firearms—and suicide attempts with firearms are almost always fatal. Teens and adolescents who attempt suicide with a firearm almost always use a gun found in their house, studies find.

“Suicide is often impulsive and a moment of crisis can escalate quickly,” Dr. Lee said. “If your child is considering suicide, call or text 988 or chat on right away. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources.”

For more information, visit

As children grow and become more independent, it can be more challenging to know what they are thinking and feeling. However, if you see signs that your child’s mental health is under threat, it’s important to tune in and take action.

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) SeventyFour / iStock via Getty Images Plus

Other articles by HVP News Reporters

  • Guilt-free, superfruit snacking

    Sweet treats made to permissibly indulge

    For many, enjoying a small indulgence can serve as a reward for a job well done or a mood-boosting pick-me-up. In fact, mindful snacking is on-trend for a majority of consumers. read more »
  • Getting healthier starts wth your feet

    Start your wellness goals from the ground up

    Good foot and ankle health is critical for good overall health, so no matter what your wellness goals are, be sure to start from the ground up. read more »
  • Dangerous heart conditions often go undetected in pregnant and postpartum women

    A torn ACL revealed an undiagnosed heart defect

    National Jewish Health experts advocate for screenings to detect heart conditions that may develop in otherwise healthy women read more »
  • Bald Eagle viewing in winter

    Watching them can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience

    Winter is a great time to view bald eagles in New York State. Viewing from a safe distance and at established observation sites can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience. read more »
  • Yes, you can raise healthy, smart, kind kids in a screen-saturated world

    "The Mediatrician" helps guide parents on Safer Internet Day

    Raising children in a screen-saturated world elicits fear, hope, and questions from parents, educators, and healthcare providers. The best thing to happen this year on “Safer Internet Day,” is the launch of “The Mediatrician's Guide”, developed to deliver those critical answers. read more »
  • Looking for a new career?

    Become a financial planner

    Becoming a financial planner offers both financial rewards and the chance to help others. Whether you’re a recent graduate exploring your career path or a mid-career professional seeking change, this growing profession may be the right fit for you. read more »
  • How to prep the night before the SAT or ACT exam

    Calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence

    Taking the SAT or ACT exam is the culmination of months of test-specific preparation, and in truth, years of schooling. While knowing that can feel like a lot of pressure, there are steps you can take the night before the exam to calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence: read more »
  • 7 Valentine's Day date ideas to break from the norm

    Think outside the box this year

    If you’re feeling pressure to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day date, it may be time to veer away from tradition. While flowers, chocolates and dinner for two is a classic, thinking outside the box can make for just as romantic of an experience. read more »
  • Helping infants, toddlers and families thrive

    The child tax credit is a critical policy vehicle

    A bipartisan package that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, would expand the child tax credit (CTC). As the Senate decides whether to follow suit, advocates press that the CTC is a critical policy vehicle to help all infants, toddlers and their families thrive, and it should be implemented as soon as possible. read more »
  • What to look for when you need a law firm

    Savvy advice from Best Lawyers

    Let’s face it, no person or business gets a thrill out of hiring a law firm. Fortunately, peer-reviewed rankings have simplified the process. read more »