For parents, teachers and mental health professionals, the topic of suicidal thoughts in children and the risk of teen suicide is more important now than ever. According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s teen suicide statistics, the teen suicide rate is rising. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among people age 15–24. There were more than 6,250 completed teen suicides in 2017 alone. Among young people, there are more than 25 suicide attempts for each suicide.
The risk of teen suicide is not a new problem, but the issue continues to evolve and affect new people. When people consider childhood suicide, they may visualize an older teen. Now, younger children also report suicidal thoughts and actions.
Emergency Room Visits Double
To better understand the teen suicide rate increase, researchers examined emergency room data for people between the ages 5 and 18 over a nine-year period. The study investigated the reason for the hospital visit and tracked those presenting for either a suicide attempt or suicidal ideation.
The study looked at almost 60,000 visits for children and found that:
- More than 1,600 presented for suicide attempts or ideation
- More than 43% of the 1,600 were children aged 5–11
- The average age of people with suicidal thoughts or actions was 13
Since the researchers gathered data over time, they discovered that despite there being no increase in overall emergency room visits, visits related to suicide increased from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.12 million to 2015.
What’s Causing the Increase?
Identifying the increase in teen suicide is valuable, but understanding what causes teen suicide is even more crucial. By noting the potential causes, people can begin taking action to reduce the risk of teen suicide.
Teenage and childhood suicide is a complicated issue without a single, clear cause. Instead, various factors contribute to suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts among children and teens. Childhood and the teen years are particularly stressful times marked by major life changes like puberty, confusion, fear and uncertainty. These expected changes become more overwhelming when combined with outside stressors like divorce, moving and social changes. Bullying and teen cyberbullying are also often cited as contributors to suicide. These actions can adversely impact the mood and self-esteem of the target.
Additionally, mental health issues in teens may encourage suicidal thoughts. Many teens experience anxious and depressive thoughts for the first time in adolescence but may not have developed the coping skills needed to manage those feelings. Having one or more mental health or substance use disorders, especially depressive disorders, can significantly raise an adolescent’s risk of suicide.
Other risk factors for suicide include:
- Being impulsive or having poor decision-making skills
- Adverse life events, like trauma or loss of a loved one
- Family history of mental health issues, substance use or suicide
- Experiencing physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- Having a gun in the home
- Previous incarceration
- Being around other people who have suicidal thoughts or actions
While none of these contributors will make someone attempt suicide, they can increase the risk of attempts and completion.
What This Means for Families
The climbing rates of suicide and suicidal ideation in young children and teens mean parents and other family members must take preventative action. No longer can a parent wait to react after a sign of serious trouble. By then, it could be too late.
Parents should look for warning signs of suicide. By noting the physical, emotional and behavioral changes in their child, they can direct them to the help they need.
Some warning signs of suicide include:
- Changes in eating and sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities
- Becoming more angry or defiant
- Using alcohol and other drugs
- Decrease in personal hygiene
- Talking, writing or making art about death
- Poor school performance
- Appearing very unhappy or numb
These warning signs could point to any number of issues, so parents should find ways to foster open communication with their children. By approaching their child with love, compassion and interest, parents can better support their children. Parents should always practice vigilance with any significant changes in their child. Any suicide attempt, thought or action is serious and needs to be addressed.
Helpful Resources and Information
Luckily, parents are never alone in the mission to ensure the safety of their child. Helpful resources are available to evaluate and treat teens with suicidal ideation:
- Those interested in a teen suicide hotline should consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-272-8255
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides information on teen suicide prevention programs
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides facts about teen suicide, ways to manage stress and additional resources
These national resources are useful, but some of the best treatment options are in-person assessments from an experienced medical or mental health professional. Suicide and suicidality is not a problem anyone should try to handle without a professional because the dangers are too high.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts paired with substance use or you know someone who is, reach out to The Recovery Village. When you contact a representative from The Recovery Village, you can learn about effective treatment options for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
Bracho-Sanchez, Edith. “Number of Children Going to ER with Suicidal Thoughts, Attempts Doubles, Study Finds.” CNN, April 8, 2019. Accessed May 1, 2019. Burstein, Brett, Agostino, Holly and Greenfield, Brian. “Suicidal Attempts and Ideation Among Children and Adolescents in U.S. Emergency Departments, 2007–2015.” JAMA Pediatrics, April 8, 2019. May 1, 2019. National Institute of Mental Health. “Suicide.” April 2019. Accessed May 1, 2019. Stanford Children’s Health. “Teen Suicide.” Accessed May 1, 2019.
Bracho-Sanchez, Edith. “Number of Children Going to ER with Suicidal Thoughts, Attempts Doubles, Study Finds.” CNN, April 8, 2019. Accessed May 1, 2019.
Burstein, Brett, Agostino, Holly and Greenfield, Brian. “Suicidal Attempts and Ideation Among Children and Adolescents in U.S. Emergency Departments, 2007–2015.” JAMA Pediatrics, April 8, 2019. May 1, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Suicide.” April 2019. Accessed May 1, 2019.
Stanford Children’s Health. “Teen Suicide.” Accessed May 1, 2019.