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Adolescent Suicide: The Risks and Warning Signs That Every Parent Should Know

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but as the month fades away, let us not forget that suicide continues to be a real-life struggle for numerous Americans, especially among the adolescent population.  Indeed, according to numerous data sources, e.g., Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Mental Health, etc., teen suicide continues to remain problematic and is representative of being the second leading cause of death amongst this population and yet is often preventable.  In many cases, we, as parents, fail to recognize the warning signs.

As a parent myself, I sometimes take for granted the belief that my teens would come to me if they were struggling with personal issues or otherwise in a mental health crisis.  So often we grow accustom to our teens’ growing need for privacy and autonomy and the metaphorical retreat to their bedroom as normal, adolescent behavior.  After all, we were teenagers once ourselves and, from my own experience, my bedroom with the door shut was my refuge.  But at what point does the typical-teen experience of bedroom hibernation become unhealthy isolation?

Teenagers are particularly fragile with respect to their cognitive growth.  For example, their ability to logically deduce, problem-solve, cope, etc. are significantly hindered by their underdeveloped emotional regulatory ability, especially when dealing with social and relational stressors. Consequently, our role as parents necessitates hypervigilance as it concerns our vulnerable teens, both in terms of observing probable warning signs (see below), as well communicating directly with our children and asking questions… a lot of questions.  In short, be nosy, be persistent, and arguably most importantly, be direct when asking questions about their thoughts and feelings about suicide, depression and self-harm. Our children are listening and so must we.

 

Warning Signs of Adolescent Suicidal Behavior: 

 

  • Increased irritability
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Not caring about activities that used to matter
  • Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
  • Alcohol/Substance abuse
  • Impulsive or risky/reckless behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
  • Declining school performance/increased absences from school
  • Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
  • Giving away possessions

 

For more information or if you know of someone who may be at risk, please contact us; we at High Country Behavioral Health are here to help.  If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

 

Additional Suicide Prevention and Education Resources:

 

Idaho Suicide Prevention 208-398-4357

Wyoming-Based Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-4357 

Wyoming Department of Health

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

 

References

1 Ruch, D. A., Sheftall, A. H., Schlagbaum, P., Rausch, J., Campo, J. V., & Bridge, J. A. (2019). Trends in suicide among youth aged 10 to 19 years in the United States, 1975 to 2016. JAMA network open2(5), e193886-e193886. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/article-abstract/2733430.

2 Poland, S., Lieberman, R., & Niznik, M. (2019). Suicide contagion and clusters—Part 1: What school psychologists should know. Communique47(5). Retrieved from https://www.nova.edu/suicideprevention/suicide_contagion_and_clusters_part_1_what_school_psychologists_should_know.pdf.

3 Bhattacharjee, S. (2019). Child and adolescent suicide: Facts, assessment, and preventive strategies. Eastern Journal of Psychiatry21(2). Retrieved from http://easternjpsychiatry.org/index.php/about/article/view/90/86.

4 Walker, D. M., Cunningham, A. M., Gregory, J. K., & Nestler, E. J. (2019). Long-term behavioral effects of post-weaning social isolation in males and females. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience13, 66. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00066/full. 

5 National Alliance on Mental Health. (2019). Risk of suicide. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Risk-of-Suicide.

 

Dr. Erin E. Fortin, Ph.D. - Psychologist and Clinical Therapist

About the author

Dr. Erin E. Fortin, Ph.D., Psychologist and Clinical Therapist

Erin is a Wyoming native and army veteran who graduated from Montana State University-Billings in 1997 with his BS in psychology. As an undergraduate, Erin worked with adolescents at an inpatient treatment facility which focused on youth with conduct disorder and mental health issues. Erin then worked for several years as an adult probation and parole officer which included a specialization in working with adult sexual offenders. In 2012, Erin was a distinguished graduate in counseling studies at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Erin then began doctoral education and training at Capella University and completed a Ph.D. in Psychology in 2019, where he further was inducted as a lifetime member of the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology and is a member of the American Psychological Association. Erin started as a PPC at HCBH in October of 2019. Erin continues to enjoy working with adolescents. In his free time, Erin appreciates and enjoys spending time with his children, reading and writing poetry, and scouting various areas to hike and fish in the great Wyoming outdoors. 

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