The suicide rate among teenage girls reached an all-time high in 2015, according to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The analysis found an increase in teen suicides across the board between 2007 and 2015. The suicide rate increased 31% for teen boys and doubled for teen girls during this time period 1

The numbers are a sobering reminder that suicide is a growing public health concern and that teens are a particularly vulnerable group. Research shows that teen depression is on the rise 2  and suicide is always a risk during the course of a major depressive episode. 3

There are multiple reasons why teens are struggling, and many can contribute to a major depressive episode. Bullying, heavy social media use, economic stressors, family discord, trauma, and academic stress are all potential stressors for teens.

Changes in behavior are often viewed as a rite of passage or “teen angst,” but it’s important to understand the risk factors for teen suicide. With the suicide rate of teen girls (ages 15 to 19) doubling, parents and educators need to be aware of the warning signs and know how to get help.

Warning signs for teen suicide

All teens are different, and many are adept at masking their feelings. To that end, it isn’t always possible to predict outcomes or spot signs of depression and suicidal ideation. Many do, however, exhibit some symptoms. The following are some (but not the only) potential warning signs of suicidal ideation:

  • Talking about death, suicide, and/or self-harm
  • Changes in personality or behavior that is out of character
  • Talking about feeling worthless, helpless, and/or hopeless
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Changes in eating habits, including appetite loss and overeating
  • Risky or self-destructive behavior
  • Changes in behavior, including lack of concentration and changes in school performance
  • Isolating from peers and/or family
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Expressing feelings of overwhelming shame and guilt, and making statements that others don’t care or others will be better off without me
  • Lack of hope for the future – feeling like things can’t possibly improve
  • Visiting or calling on loved ones
  • Getting affairs in order.

There are also risk factors that put youth at an increased risk level for suicidal ideation:

  • Perfectionism
  • LGBTQ youth
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Academic struggles
  • Teens lacking social and family support
  • Family history of suicide.

How to help a suicidal teen

If you are a teen, or you know a teen, in crisis and in need of support from a counselor, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK) 24 hours a day and you will be connected with the nearest crisis center in your area. Take immediate action!

How to communicate with a depressed teen

Depression will not go away on its own. Left untreated, depression can be very damaging and can result in suicidal ideation. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, it’s important to open up a dialogue in an honest and non-judgmental way. You want to convey to your teen that you are there to help, no matter the triggers beneath the depression.

Listen more than you talk: Judging, criticizing, and/or trying to fix the “problem” with an endless list of practical solutions will only push your teen away. Depression is not a problem to be solved; it is a disease to be healed. One of the best things you can do is listen to your teen and provide emotional support.

Don’t minimize: Your teen’s problems feel overwhelming to your teen. Resist the urge to gloss over troubling situations or say things like, “This will seem like no big deal when you’re older.” Meet your teen where he is today and acknowledge his feelings and stressors.

Be persistent: If your teen is accustomed to hiding her emotions and problems, she might not open up during the first conversation. Talking about depression isn’t a one-time conversation. In fact, it can feel very overwhelming. Keep the door open and be present and available.

Trust your instincts: If your teen denies a depressed mood but your instinct tells you that something isn’t right, talk to your teen about getting additional support. The important thing is for your teen to have a trusted source to talk to during this time, and professional help can bridge the communication gap.

When to seek treatment

Lifestyle changes (daily exercise, improved sleep hygiene, mindfulness training, and balanced nutrition) can help teens struggling with emotional issues, but it’s not always enough. If your teen continues to struggle with symptoms of depression despite changes at home, seek help as soon as possible. The following interventions can be helpful for your teen.

  • Psychotherapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Medication management.

Involve your teen in discussions about treatment options, and meet a few professionals before making any decisions. A psychotherapist with a background in treating teens is your best bet for a good match, but it’s important to make sure that your teen feels comfortable in the room.

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Last Updated: Sep 25, 2017