Teen suicide: What parents need to know

Teen suicide can be prevented. Know the risk factors, the warning signs and the steps you can take to protect your teen. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Is your teen at risk of suicide? While no teen is immune, there are factors that can make some adolescents more vulnerable than others. Understand how to tell if your teen might be suicidal and where to turn for help and treatment.

What makes teens vulnerable to suicide?

Most teens who attempt or commit suicide have a mental health condition or substance abuse problem. As a result, they have trouble coping with the stress of being a teen, such as dealing with rejection, failure, breakups and family turmoil. They might also be unable to see that they can turn their lives around — and that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

What are the risk factors for teen suicide?

Factors that increase the risk of teen suicide include:

  • Having a psychiatric disorder, such as depression
  • A history of suicide attempts or a family history of suicidal behavior
  • A family history of mood disorder
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence, such as being injured or threatened with a weapon

Other factors, when combined with the above, also can increase the risk of teen suicide, including:

  • Access to means, such as firearms
  • Loss or conflict with close friends or family members
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Becoming pregnant
  • Social isolation
  • Exposure to suicide

What role do antidepressants play?

Some studies have shown a possible link between starting treatment with an antidepressant and an increased risk of suicide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers of all antidepressants to include a warning stating that antidepressants might increase suicide risk in children, adolescents and young adults.

However, the link between antidepressants and suicidal thinking isn't clear — and withholding appropriate treatment also increases the risk of suicide. To be safe, anyone who starts taking an antidepressant should be watched closely for signs of suicidal thinking.

Apr. 24, 2013 See more In-depth