5 Top Suicide Warning Signs for Children and Teens

It is with sadness that we learned this morning of the suicide death of one of our own children, a 14 year old male student who attended Greenwood Lake Middle School in Lake Mary. To make matters worse, the student’s body was found in a bathroom on school property. He died of an apparent gunshot wound. Our students and families are in shock and grief, which is a normal response to such a tragedy.

Suicide does not discriminate and for teens it is the third leading cause of death among young people, ages 12-18 resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC.

More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

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Suicide Statistics | Each day in our nation there is an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12. Suicide rates differ between boys and girls.

  1. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves.
  2. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often as girls; perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.
  3. More than 30% of LGBTQ youth report at least one suicide attempt within the last year.
  4. Furthermore, bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.

As our community tries to understand and move forward questions will be asked: why did this happen, how did we miss the warning signs?

  1. The first thing we can do is offer comfort to our children. You may not have all the answers but let them know they are safe and loved.
  2. Second, give them the opportunity to express their feelings and talk about their own struggles, friends who might be struggling and what can be done.
  3. Third, we should educate our students, parents and schools to look for warning signs in children that might be at risk.

5 of the Top Suicide Warning Signs for Children and Teens.

  1. Changes in Mood and Thinking. This may include children who begin to isolate more at home or pull away from their peer groups. At risk children may also express feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt. They may also have increased difficulty concentrating in the classroom or when attempting to do homework. Grades may decline and behavioral problems may increase.
  2. Attempts to Hurt Oneself. Self-injury behaviors are warning signs for young children as well as teenagers. Common self-destructive behaviors include running into traffic, jumping from heights, and scratching/cutting/marking the body. Previous suicide attempts are also one of the most strongest indicators.
  3. Death and Suicidal Themes. These might appear in classroom drawings, homework, journals or through obsessive play of video games glorifying death. Children may also begin to dress differently in dark themes.
  4. Plan/Method/Access. A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns, pills, etc., and/or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan, “I feel like killing myself.” The greater the planning, the greater the potential for suicide.
  5. Use and Experimentation with Alcohol or Drugs. Use of these substances may be an attempt to cope with pain, both internally and externally stemming from one’s family life, life changes or peer group.
  6. It is important that our children, parents and community take suicide seriously. Screening for suicide in schools should be done along with referrals to mental health professionals for counseling for children who are at risk. Use this tragedy as an opportunity for honest dialogue at home and at school. The life of one child saved may be the life of someone you love.

About the Author: Lyris Steuber, MS, LMFT is a Lake Mary Marriage Therapist & Individuals Counselor for Depression and Anxiety with Total Life Counseling Center. Total Life Counseling Center hires experts that specialize in children, teens, adults and can be reached for questions at (407) 248-0030.