Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. However, Teen suicide is also preventable. Know the risk factors, the warning signs and the steps you can take to protect yourself, your friend or your teen. Find out more about teen suicide and the many suicide prevention resources available locally, nationally and on-line.
*Note: Scroll down to “Teen Depression and Suicide Resources” section for teen crisis mental health and suicide help lines, resources and support.
Most everyone at some time in his or her life will experience periods of anxiety, sadness, and despair. These are normal reactions to the pain of loss, rejection, or disappointment. However, teenagers and young adults may occasionally experience more extreme and long-lasting reactions that can leave them mired in sadness and hopelessness, unable to see a way out. At such emotionally troubled times, some may feel that suicide is the only solution – it isn’t! Finding the right psychological support can help a person regain hope, perspective and the certainty that life is worth living. Family, teachers and friends can become educated about suicide warning signs and how to help someone showing those signs receive the support they deserve and need.
Some Basic Facts
In 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
In 1996, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among college students, the third-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24 years, and the fourth-leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 14 years
There are many behavioral indicators that can help parents or friends recognize the threat of suicide in a loved one. Since mental and substance-related disorders so frequently accompany suicidal behavior, many of the clues to be looked for are symptoms associated with such disorders as depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use, disruptive behavior disorders, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia.
There are also some more obvious signs of the potential for committing suicide. Putting one’s affairs in order, such as giving or throwing away favorite belongings, is a strong clue. And it can’t be stressed more strongly that any talk of death or suicide should be taken seriously and paid close attention to.
How to help
Since people who are contemplating suicide feel so alone and helpless, the most important thing to do if you think a friend or loved one is suicidal is to communicate with him or her openly and frequently. Make it clear that you care; stress your willingness to listen. Also, be sure to take all talk of suicide seriously. Don’t assume that people who talk about killing themselves won’t really do it.
An estimated 80 percent of all those who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions or mention their feelings to a friend or family member. And don’t ignore what may seem like casual threats or remarks. Statements like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead” and “I can’t see any way out,” no matter how off-the-cuff or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings. One of the most common misconceptions about talking with someone who might be contemplating suicide is that bringing up the subject may make things worse.
This is not true. There is no danger of “giving someone the idea.” Rather, the opposite is correct. Bringing up the question of suicide and discussing it without showing shock or disapproval is one of the most helpful things you can do. This openness shows that you are taking the individual seriously and responding to the severity of his or her distress.
Save a life!
If the threat is immediate, if your friend or loved one tells you he or she is going to commit suicide, you must act immediately. Don’t leave the person alone, and don’t try to argue.
Instead, ask questions like:
“Have you thought about how you’d do it?” “Do you have the means?” and “Have you decided when you’ll do it?”
If the person has a defined plan, the means are easily available, the method is a lethal one, and the time is set, the risk of suicide is obviously severe. In such an instance, you must take the individual to the nearest psychiatric facility or hospital emergency room. If you are together on the phone, you may even need to call 911 or the police. Remember, under such circumstances no actions on your part should be considered too extreme—you are trying to save a life.
Take all threats seriously – you are not betraying someone’s trust by trying to keep them alive.
Some common symptoms of these disorders include:
• Extreme personality changes
• Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.
• Significant loss or gain in appetite
• Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Withdrawal from family and friends
• Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
• Sadness, irritability, or indifference
• Having trouble concentrating
• Extreme anxiety or panic; hallucinations or unusual beliefs
• Drug or alcohol use or abuse
• Aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
• Poor school performance
Teen Depression and Suicide Resources
Santa Clara County SUICIDE and CRISIS Center*: 1-855-278-4204 (Toll Free 24×7 Hotline) – English, Spanish
National Suicide Prevention Line* (Toll Free 24/7) 1-800-273-TALK or 800-SUICIDE
EMQ Child/Adolescent Mobile Crisis Program 408-379-9085 1-877-412-7474
(after hours/weekend emergencies) 24-hour, mobile crisis intervention service for Santa Clara Country children and adolescents under age 18 in acute psychological crisis. It provides multilingual (Spanish, Vietnamese, Hindi, Farsi, French, Telegu, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, American Sign Language, Hebrew, and German), community-based intervention, evaluation, and links children and families with other community agencies for long term care and assistance.
Contact Cares Teen Crisis Line 408-850-6140
Bill Wilson Center’s health, relationship, crisis, and information referral line for teens and young adults. This is a dispatch service that connects the caller directly to needed services, including emergency treatment and transitional housing.
Teen Hotline* 650-579-0353
Runaway for Support 1-800-621-4000
Rape Crisis Hotline* 408-287-3000
National Youth Crisis Hotline 800-448-3000
Crisis Text Line* – [text HELLO to 741741] Offers emotional and crisis support, provided by trained volunteers and employees, for teens 24/7.
(*Indicates 24 hour availability)
Other Local Resources
Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention & Crisis – Offers suicide prevention information, classes, and support.
YMCA Anti-Bullying Resources-The YMCA of Silicon Valley has established Project Cornerstone, which is committed to helping all children and teens in Silicon Valley feel valued, respected and known. This “Help Stop Bullying” page contains anti-bullying ideas and resources.
LGBTQ Youth Space: A Program of Family & Children Services, with a community drop-in center and mental health program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally youth and young adults ages 13-25 who live in Santa Clara County. This web site also has a page of other LGBTQ resources.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – National group that funds research, offers educational programs, advocates for public policy, and supports those affected by suicide. More Than Sad is a program of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that provides education about factors that put youth at risk for suicide, in particular depression and other mental disorders. They also developed two files to educate high school students and families about teen suicide and teen depression (the leading risk factor for suicide in both adults and teens):
- Watch the film More Than Sad – Preventing Teen Suicide
- Watch the film More Than Sad – Teen Depression
Suicide Is Preventable/Know The Signs – Know the Signs is a statewide suicide prevention social marketing campaign built on three key messages: Know the signs. Find the words. Reach out. This campaign is intended to educate Californians how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to find the words to have a direct conversation with someone in crisis and where to find professional help and resources.
Teenz Talk – A global teen community focusing on teen mental health and emotional well-being. Teenz Talk harnesses the power of peer connections and shared stories as a source of support, strength and inspiration.
ReachOut USA– A non-profit organization that meets youth where they are to deliver peer support and mental health information in a safe and supportive online space.
TEAM – (Teaching Everyone about Mental Health) Site devoted to equipping family and friends with the tools necessary to help a loved one struggling with a mental illness. Fight stigma, Share stories, Identify resources
HEARD Alliance – (Health Care Alliance for Response to Adolescent Depression) A San Francisco Bay Area group with mission to increase collaboration amongst primary care, mental health and educational professionals, to enhance the community’s ability to promote well-being, to treat depression and related conditions and to prevent suicide in adolescents and young adults. Lists Bay Area resources for parents, children and adolescents.
ok2talk.org: The goal of OK2TALK is to create a community for teens and young adults struggling with mental health problems and encourage them to talk about what they’re experiencing by sharing their personal stories of recovery, tragedy, struggle or hope.
MY3App – MY3 lets you stay connected when you are having thoughts of suicide. You define your support network (your top 3 people) and your plan to stay safe. With MY3 you can be prepared to help yourself and reach out to others when you are having thoughts of suicide. MY3 is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, free of charge.
Facebook Suicide Support – Facebook lets you report posts from people who may be in suicidal crisis. You are given several choices on how to help the person. The process of flagging a post is simple:
- Click or tap on the arrow in the top-right corner of the post.
- Select “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.” …or…
- Select “It’s hurtful, threatening or suicidal.” …or…
- Select “I think they might hurt themselves.”
The “What You Can Do” screen offers advice on how you can help a friend in need. At the bottom of that screen is the option to request Facebook look at the post, after which a dedicated Facebook team will review the post and reach out to the individual. Alternatively, you can send a message to the friend, or to a mutual friend in an effort to help the person. If you choose the option to have Facebook send the person a message of support, it will be from you and NOT be anonymous. There’s also the option of chatting with a trained helper. If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, you can ALWAYS call 800-273-8255 to speak with a trained crisis volunteer. There is a Facebook video that explains the options.
Wellspace – [text HOPE to 916-668-4226] Operates the Suicide Prevention Crisis Line that serves 36 counties in northern California.