Top 12 Warning Signs for Suicide in Adolescents

Suicide Awareness: Fast Facts

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds. This statistic is staggering. As parents, teachers, mentors, counselors, coaches, and leaders we need to be more equipped to identify suicidal ideation and rumination, in hopes of being able to identify if an adolescent is planning to attempt suicide. In 2022, adolescents are deeply hurting and struggling now more than ever. Being aware of the warning signs, and how to best aid these teens in the midst of their hurt just might save their life.

Depression & Suicide in Adolescence:

What is depression? Feeling sad, frustrated and hopeless about life accompanied by a loss of pleasure in most activities and disturbances in sleep, appetite, concentration and energy. This is the most common psychological problem in adolescence.

~ 20 to 50 percent of U.S. teens experience mild to moderate feelings of depression

~ 15 to 20 percent of U.S. teens have had one or more major depressive episodes

~ 5 percent of U.S. teens are chronically depressed


  • Pubertal hormone changes alone RARELY trigger depression
  • Genetic AND hormonal risk factors sensitize the brain to react more strongly to stress
  • The short 5-HTTLPR gene is linked to adolescent depression, but ONLY for life stressors
  • Failing at something the adolescent cares deeply about
  • Parental divorce
  • Breaking up of a friendship
  • Breaking up of a romantic relationship
  • Victimization through bullying
  • Abusive experiences

A few negative life events that trigger depression: 

  1. Failing at something the adolescent cares deeply about
  2. Parental divorce
  3. Breaking up of a friendship
  4. Breaking up of a romantic relationship
  5. Victimization through bullying
  6. Abusive experiences

Gender Differences: 

  • Girls are more prone than boys to have depression
  • Early maturing girls are especially prone to depression
  • Effective coping skills are crucial for adolescents’ to have
  • This varies among cultures. In China, there is a reversal of depression… boys have a higher level of stressful life events from parental expectations of school and other places.


  • Second leading cause of death among American youths
  • Between the 1960s and the 1990s there suicide rates among U.S. adolescents tripled. From the mid 2000s and on, there is a slight increase about that. 
  • The number of boys who commit suicide compared to the number of girls that commit suicide is a 4:1 ratio
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents attempt suicide 3 times as often as other youth

Why does suicide increase in adolescence? With the rise of a depressive mood, teenagers improved ability to plan ahead contributes greatly. 

Warning Signs of Suicide:

1. Efforts to put personal affairs in order – smoothing over troubled relationships, giving away treasured possessions
2. Verbal cues – saying goodbye to family or friends, making direct or indirect references to suicide
3. Feelings of sadness, “not caring” anymore
4. Extreme fatigue, lack of energy, boredom
5. No desire to socialize; withdrawal
6. Easily frustrated
7. Volatile mood swings – spells of crying or laughing, angry outbursts
8. Inability to concentrate
9. Decline in grades, absence from school, discipline problems
10. Neglect of personal appearance
11. Sleep change – loss of sleep or excessive sleepiness
12. Obtaining a weapon or other means of self-harm, such as prescription medications

Ways to Respond to a Young Person Who Might Be Suicidal

Be psychologically and physically availableGive the adolescent your full attention, let them know when you are available and emphasize that you are always willing to talk
Communicate a caring, capable attitudeSaying, “I’m concerned. I care about you,” encourage the adolescent to discuss feelings of despair.
Assess the immediacy of riskAsk the individual, “Do you want to harm yourself? Do you want to die or kill yourself?” If the answer is yes, ask if the adolescent has a plan. If it is specific, the risk of suicide is high.
Oppose the suicidal intentCommunicate sensitively that suicide is not the correct answer and to explore other options
Offer a plan for helpOffer to assist the young person in finding professional help and in telling others, such as parents and school teachers who need to know about the problem
Obtain a commitmentAsk adolescent to agree to a plan of reaching out to trusted adults when suicidal thoughts occur.

References: Information is derived from Developmental Psychology taught by Dr. Fales at Washington State University, Vancouver campus.

2 responses to “Top 12 Warning Signs for Suicide in Adolescents”

  1. Very interesting and informative post. My husband’s friend’s son also ended his life over the fear of failure even before the commencement of the exams. Excellent suggestions to help the teenagers who are feeling suicidal and also great tips to identify the signs of a possible suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

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