Suicide Prevention, Children Ages 10 to 19 Years

In New York State (NYS), suicide is the leading cause of injury death for children ages 10 to 14 years and the fourth leading cause for children ages 15 to 19 years. Teenage males are much more likely to die by suicide than females. Young males are less likely to seek help or talk about their feelings. They are also more likely than females to use fatal means (such as guns, hanging, or jumping from heights) to attempt suicide.

As a parent or caregiver, you can play a major role in identifying if a young person is considering suicide.

What are suicidal behaviors?

  • Suicide occurs when someone purposely kills him/herself.
  • A suicide attempt occurs when someone tries to kill him/herself but does not succeed. The person who survives may have serious injuries such as brain damage, broken bones, and organ failure. The survivor may also have depression or other mental health issues.
  • Suicidal ideation occurs when someone is thinking about ending his/her life.

Why do teens commit suicide?

There are many reasons why teens become suicidal. A suicide rarely has just one cause.

The teen years are an extremely stressful time for many children.Untreated mental illness, especially depression, is the leading cause for suicide. Many people who commit suicide suffer from untreated or poorly treated depression resulting from difficult life experiences.These life experiences might include family changes or illness, loss of family or friends, and feeling lonely, helpless, hopeless or depressed.

How do I know if my teen is at risk for suicide?

The following factors may increase the risk of suicide or attempted suicide. However, these risk factors do not always lead to a suicide.

  • Depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often combined with other mental disorders)
  • Feeling hopeless and worthless
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling detached and isolated from friends, peers and family
  • Family history of suicide, mental illness, or depression
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to a weapon in the home
  • Knowing someone with suicidal behavior, such as a family member, friend , or celebrity
  • Coping with being gay (homosexuality) in an unsupportive family, community, or hostile school environment
  • Incarceration (time in prison)

What factors can help protect my teen from becoming suicidal?

  • Effective medical treatment for mental and physical health problems and substance abuse
  • Strong support network of friends, family, peer groups or outside activities
  • Skills in solving problems, resolving conflicts and handling disputes without violence
  • Cultural and/or religious beliefs that discourage suicide

What are warning signs or behaviors that my teen may be thinking about suicide?

Teen suicide often occurs after a recent stressful life event in the family, with a friend, or at school. It is important for you to know the warning signs for suicide so you can get your teen the help she/he needs. A teen who is considering suicide might have one or more of these behaviors:

  • Suicidal ideation (thinking, writing, drawing or talking about suicide, death, dying or the afterlife)
  • Dependence on alcohol or drugs
  • Lack of a sense of purpose in life
  • Trouble focusing or thinking clearly
  • Increased withdrawal from family, friends, school, jobs and society. Poor grades may be a sign that the child is withdrawing at school.
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities
  • Reckless or risk-taking behaviors
  • Rash, bizarre or violent behavior
  • Changed eating or sleeping patterns (such as being unable to sleep or sleeping all the time)
  • Deep feelings of grief, uncontrolled anger, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, guilt or anxiety

What are signs that my teen may have a suicide plan?

  • Threatening to or talking about wanting to hurt or kill him/herself
  • Creating suicide notes
  • Expressing odd or troubling thoughts
  • Showing a dramatic change in personality or appearance
  • Throwing or giving away or promising to give away valued possessions to family members or friends
  • Talking about not being around in the future or "going away"
  • Searching for and trying to obtain weapons, pills, or other means ways to kill him/herself

How can I help a teen who is thinking or talking about suicide?

  • Do not ignore these warning signs.
  • Talk openly with your child and express concern, support, and love. If your child does not feel comfortable talking to you, suggest that s/he talk to another trusted adult such as a family member, a pastor, minister, rabbi or priest, a coach, a school counselor, or a family doctor.
  • Do not leave your teen alone.
  • Remove the objects your child might use to harm him/herself. Make sure your teen does not have access to guns, other possible weapons or medications.
  • Seek help immediately from:
    • Your child's doctor;
    • Mental health services (Ask your doctor for a referral.);
    • The nearest emergency room;
    • Emergency services (911); and/or
    • A suicide hotline.

How can I find a suicide hotline?

What NYS laws related to the prevention of suicide are important for me to know?

Timothy's Law requires that health insurance providers provide comparable (similar) coverage for mental illnesses as they provide for other medical care. Timothy's Law ensures that adults and children with mental illness receive the same health care coverage benefits as those provided for physical ailments.

Only people covered by group health insurance or a school blanket health insurance policy are eligible for the mental health benefits required by Timothy's Law. Group health insurance is insurance that you obtain through an employer or through an association, such as a chamber of commerce. A school blanket health insurance policy covers students enrolled in a college or university who purchase their insurance through the school.

Where can I find more information about youth suicide?