Risks and Signs of Suicidal Behavior

Red flags

  • A previous suicide attempt. This is considered the most significant predictor of a future suicide; more than 40 percent of adolescents who commit suicide have attempted it at least once in the past.
  • A family history of suicide. Compared to their peers, teenagers who kill themselves are five times more likely than their peers to have a history of a family member who has committed suicide.
  • Expressions of intense guilt or hopelessness.
  • Threatening, talking or joking about suicide. It is important to have a heart-to-heart conversation with any child or adolescent who makes comments such as "I would be better off dead" or "Nothing matters anymore." Find out what is going on in his life and how he is feeling, and make it clear that you are committed to obtaining whatever help he might need to work through his problems. Broaching the subject of suicide does not encourage it, but rather increases the likelihood that a successful intervention can be started.
  • "Cleaning house." You should be very concerned and should investigate immediately if a child or adolescent whether your own or a member of someone else s family begins to give away favorite possessions, clothing, entire CD or tape collections, etc. This is a common behavior among young people who are planning suicide.
  • A gun in the home. Among young people, more suicides are carried out using firearms than by any other method. If anyone in your family especially a teenager is having a problem with depression, remove all guns from the home and keep them out.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse. One frightening aspect of substance abuse is that it can trigger erratic, self-destructive behavior for which little or no warning was given. A mild depression can suddenly plummet to suicidal intensity with the help of drugs or alcohol. Because of the unpredictable actions of chemicals on the system, a number of deaths occur among youngsters who did not intend to hurt themselves.
  • Suicide among other adolescents in your community. Occasionally one or more suicides in a community or school will precipitate a disastrous "cluster" of self-destructive behavior among local teens.
  • A sudden, major loss or humiliation. All of the stressful life events that were listed earlier in this section death of a loved one, parental separation, failing an important test, etc. not only can provoke a depressive episode but can also precipitate an unexpected suicide attempt.

Background Information

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Other Things to Consider

RelationshipsBlended Families, Parents and Adult Children

TransitionsPreparing for Adolescence, Empty Nest