Teens and Young Adults
Many of us don’t understand how a young person could take his or her own life, but youth suicide is a public health problem. For the information on this webpage, we will consider anyone 24 and younger a young adult. Approximately 1,200 teenagers die by suicide each year in the United States. Nationally suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. In North Dakota, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24.
Again the question remains, why would someone want to die by suicide? The answer is complex. Teens and young adults who consider suicide sometimes have chemical imbalances that cause mental illnesses. Other causes can be the pressures teens and young adults put on themselves or pressures they feel from their parents. The bottom line is, teens and young adults that die by suicide are in great emotional pain. There are ways to prevent someone from completing suicide. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors is a huge first step. Teens may know their friends better than anyone else, which means they are in a great position to notice changes in behavior in their friends and spot warning signs of suicide.
There is no guaranteed way to know if a teen or young adult is thinking about suicide. Below are some warning signs to look for:
- Suddenly worsening school performance.
- Fixation with death or violence – Common types of expression are through poetry, essays, doodling or artwork. Other ways of expression are obsessions with violent movies, video games or music.
- Unhealthy peer relationships – Teens that don't have friends, suddenly reject their friends, or begin associating with teens known for substance use may be in trouble.
- Violent mood swings or sudden change in personality.
- Indications the teen or young adult is in an abusive relationship – These can include unexplained bruises or other injuries that the person refuses to discuss.
- Risky behaviors – These can include but are not limited to unprotected or promiscuous sex, using drugs and alcohol, stealing, vandalism or reckless driving.
- Signs of eating disorders.
- Difficulty adjusting to gender identity – Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens and young adults have higher suicide attempt rates than their heterosexual peers.
- Bullying – Bullying can lead to depression, which is a major risk factor in suicides of all ages.
- Depression – The following can be signs of depression:
- Sudden worsening in school performance.
- Withdrawal from friends and extracurricular activities. While adults will usually withdraw from all friends and social settings, it is important to realize that teens and young adults will usually still associate with one or two close friends, but activities will be less.
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger or rage.
- Sudden unexplained decline in enthusiasm and energy.
- Overreaction to criticism.
- Lowered self-esteem or feelings of guilt.
- Indecision, lack of concentration and forgetfulness.
- Restlessness and agitation.
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
- Unprovoked episodes of crying.
- Sudden neglect of appearance and hygiene.
- Seeming to feel tired all the time for no apparent reason.
- Use of alcohol and other drugs.
Just talking to someone can make a difference. You don't have to pretend you have all the answers, just listen and be yourself. Never promise to keep someone's thoughts of suicide a secret. Most of the time knowing that they are understood and not judged can help. It's important to note that talking about suicide will not push someone to complete suicide. It's important to ask friends if they are having thoughts of suicide. Even if you are not sure, don't be afraid to be wrong. You don't have to do this alone. If it's you, or a friend that may be thinking of suicide, talk to a responsible adult that you trust. If they don't listen or take you seriously, tell someone else.
Information adapted from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Association of Suicidology.