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Suicide in Young People: Risk Factors and Warning Signs

separator Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Accidents and homicides are the first two causes of death in this age group. Each year, there about 10 in 10,000 young people in the 15-to 24 age group who commit suicide. Among children ages 10 to 14, the rate is 1.5 in 100,000.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, adolescents who consider committing suicide feel hopeless, lonely and rejected. They are especially vulnerable to attempting suicide after they’ve experienced a conflict with someone else, some kind of humiliating experience, a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, a bad score on a test, abuse by a parent, or some other similar traumatic event.

Risk factors for teenage suicide
Most young people who commit suicide exhibit or experience one or more of the following:

  • A psychiatric disorder, such as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, behavior or conduct disorder (such as running away, being incarcerated, etc.)
  • Talking about suicide, death, and dying when expressing sadness, hopelessness, boredom or other negative feelings. (In other words, a rational discussion about suicide, questions about it, wondering why others do it, etc. is not a risk factor.)
  • Aggressive, impulsive behavior; feelings of rage
  • Recent personal crisis, such as unexpected pregnancy, loss of loved one or friend, difficulty dealing with sexual orientation
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Severe family conflict

Obviously, not every young person who experiences the factors listed above commits suicide. But of those who do commit suicide, those factors are a common thread. Parents who believe their child may be at risk should talk with their family doctors about having their child evaluated. If the problems seem serious, the child should see a mental health professional.

American Association of Suicidology; H. Kaplan, B. Sadock, J. Grebb, Synopsis of Psychiatry, Williams and Wilkins, 1994; The National Institute for Mental Health; The National Mental Health Association.
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