SUICIDE IN TEENS AND CHILDREN SYMPTOMS & CAUSES
Research shows that approximately 90% of people who have died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time. The most common mental illness reported was depression. Impulsivity and substance use, including alcohol and drugs, are also warning signs for elevated suicide risk. It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not the natural consequence of serious life stresses. People who experience a stressful life event may feel intense sadness or loss, anxiety, anger, or hopelessness, and may occasionally have the thought that they would be better off dead. In most people, however, experiences of stressful life events do not trigger recurring thoughts of death, creation of a suicide plan, or intent to die. If any of these are present, it suggests that the person is suffering from depression or another psychiatric disorder and should seek professional treatment.
The majority of children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually 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.
WHO IS AFFECTED BY SUICIDE?
Unfortunately, suicide crosses all age, racial, and socioeconomic groups in the US and around the world. In the US, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24, and the 3rd leading cause of death among 12 year olds. Nearly one of every eight children between the ages 6 and 12 has suicidal thoughts. The suicide rate is approximately 4 times higher among males than among females, but females attempt suicide 3 times as often as males. When a suicide occurs, everyone is affected, including the people who are left behind.
Risk factors associated with suicide among adolescents include psychiatric disorders such as major depressive, bipolar, conduct and substance use disorders; psychiatric comorbidity especially the combination of mood, disruptive and substance abuse disorders; family history of depression or suicide; loss of a parent to death or divorce; physical and/or sexual abuse; lack of a support network; feelings of social isolation; and bullying.
The prevalence of attempting suicide among adolescents is higher in:
- Females compared with males; though males are more likely to die by suicide.
- Non-Hispanic black high schoolers than non-Hispanic white high schoolers.
- Students who identified as being gay, lesbian or bisexual compared with students who identified as heterosexual.
The primary symptom of suicide is talking about suicide or doing something to try to harm oneself. If your child expresses suicidal thoughts or exhibits self-harming behaviors, seek professional help.
There are many warning signs and risk factors for suicide. The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide insight into what factors might elevate a child or adolescent’s level of suicide risk. This does not mean that if your child or adolescent has some of these risk factors, then s/he will automatically take his/her own life. Suicide risk takes into account many factors and needs to be continuously monitored by a mental health professional. Remember that many factors combine to lead to a suicidal crisis and may include some of those that are listed below.
- Mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis
- Family history of suicide and/or exposure to suicide
- Family history of mental illness
- Physical/sexual abuse
- Aggressive behavior/impulsivity
- Lack of social support/social isolation
- Poor coping skills
- Access to ways of harming oneself, like guns, knives, etc.
- Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
- Physical illness
- Family disruptions (divorce or problems with the law)
- Traumatic event
- Preoccupation with death (e.g., recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments
- Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
- Not caring about activities that used to matter
- Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
- Substance abuse
- Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
- Giving away possessions
- Risky behavior
- Lack of energy
- Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
- Declining school performance/increased absences from school
- Increased irritability
- Changes in appetite