The Facts About Teen Suicide

September 10, 2014, is the 11th annual World Suicide Prevention Day.

Professor Ella Arensman, president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, said this year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.”

“[Suicide Prevention: One World Connected] reflects the fact that connections are important at several levels if we want to enhance strategies to prevent suicide worldwide,” Arensman said. “For example, at the individual level, we should become better at reaching out to people who have become disconnected from others and have become isolated.”

For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third-leading cause of death, accounting for approximately 4,600 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And unfortunately, even more children and young adults attempt suicide every year. A nationwide survey found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the previous year. Approximately 157,000 youth between ages 10 and 24 receive medical attention for self-inflicted injuries every year in the U.S.

Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Possible warning signs include:

  • Suicide threats, both direct and indirect
  • Obsession with death
  • Giving away belongings
  • Poems, essays, or drawings that refer to death
  • Dramatic change in appearance or personality
  • Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, or rejection
  • Varying eating or sleeping patterns
  • Irrational, bizarre behavior
  • Severe drop in school performance

Certain risk factors can also help predict suicidal behavior in teens, including a history of previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, a history of depression or other mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, a stressful life event, major loss, easy access to lethal substances or methods, exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, and incarceration.

One of the biggest barriers to suicide awareness and prevention is the stigma. The majority of people are uncomfortable with the issue of suicide, leaving this crucial health problem shrouded in secrecy. Those considering suicide are done a disservice when others fail to communicate openly about suicide and healthy solutions to the underlying mental or emotional problem.

Arensman urges people to reach out to those who are isolating themselves, as social isolation can significantly increase the risk of suicide. Forming strong human bonds can be protective against suicide.

“Improving connections amongst governments and services at national and international levels is also important, especially if we realize that suicidal behavior is still considered a criminal act in at least 25 countries across the world,” Arensman said. “Therefore, streamlining of policies by governments and services across the world is crucial.”

Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide, amounting to approximately one death every 40 seconds. According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention, lives lost every year to suicide exceeds the number of homicide- and war-related deaths combined.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit the website.