This information is not intended for emergency help. In an emergency, dial 911, or call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1- 800-273-8255, or text TALK to 741741.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of U.S. high school students have seriously contemplated suicide, and nearly 16% have a suicide plan. Usually — but not always — a teen will exhibit certain behaviors that indicate they’re suicidal. Parents, educators, and other adults need to be aware of these warning signs and check in with teens who may be at risk of suicide.

In this post, we’ll talk about teen suicide warning signs, causes of teen suicide, and what to do if you think your child is suicidal.

Teen Suicide Warning Signs

As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether your teen is simply feeling a little blue, or the problem is much deeper. But, when you know what to look for, it’s easier to spot the difference between normal teen angst and a potential crisis. A teen who’s at risk for suicide may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Talking about disturbing topics: Teens that are seriously contemplating suicide may say things like, “I wish I’d never been born,” or, “The world would be better off without me.” They may also express feelings of hopelessness, shame, and guilt.
  • Suicide messages: Teens who write suicide messages — notes, emails, or social media posts — are at high risk for suicide. In addition, one study found that teens who post suicide-related content on social media may also be at risk.
  • Previous suicide attempts: A teen who has previously attempted suicide is at risk for subsequent attempts. Teens in this category should receive professional psychological care and ongoing support.
  • Making final arrangements: Teens who begin giving away prized possessions, saying goodbye to friends, and deleting social media profiles might be contemplating suicide.
  • Dramatic behavioral changes: Any new behavior that seems out of character could be a warning sign — for example, neglect of personal hygiene, excessive sleeping, and withdrawal from friends.
  • Interest in weapons or medications: A teen seriously contemplating suicide may begin researching or asking about deadly weapons and medications that can be fatal in large doses.
  • Risky behaviors: A person who is suicidal may engage in behaviors that are risky, such as using drugs and alcohol, driving dangerously, or fighting with others.
  • Self-harm: This type of behavior may be extreme — like deliberately cutting oneself — or it may seem like a sign of acute anxiety, such as skin-picking or pulling out one’s hair.

Causes of Teen Suicide

The causes of teen suicide are complex and may involve one or more of the following factors:


  • Mental illness
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Social isolation/rejection
  • Criminal behavior
  • Financial problems
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Job or school difficulties
  • Serious illness
  • Substance use disorder


  • Abuse and neglect
  • Bullying (perpetrator or victim)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Relationship problems or loss (parents’ divorce, death of a pet or loved one, etc.)
  • Sexual violence


  • Barriers to health care and support
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as a belief that suicide is a noble solution to a personal problem
  • Prevalence of suicide in the community/among peers


  • Stigma associated with seeking help for mental health
  • Easy access to firearms, and/or potentially fatal medications
  • Unsafe media portrayals of suicide

Ways to Help Prevent Teen Suicide

  1. Don’t let your teen’s depression or anxiety snowball: If you suspect that a teen in your life is struggling with depression or anxiety, it’s important to talk to them. Approach the conversation from a sympathetic, non-judgmental viewpoint, and invite them to talk to you when they’re ready.
  2. Be observant: Watch for changes in behavior that indicate something might be wrong — skipping meals, dropping out of social clubs, or spending a lot of time alone in their room, for example. Understand that teens may be struggling with problems they’ve never told you about (and don’t want to talk about).
  3. Never shrug off threats of suicide as typical teenage melodrama: Yes, teenagers can be dramatic, but any statements they make about not wanting to live or the pointlessness of life should be taken seriously.
  4. Seek professional help right away: Teens exhibiting warning signs of suicidal thoughts need prompt medical attention. In a crisis situation, don’t hesitate to take a suicidal teen to a hospital for emergency observation.
  5. Share your feelings: If you’ve ever experienced depression, loneliness, or feelings of hopelessness, talking about that could help a troubled teen open up to you and feel more comfortable talking about their problems.
  6. Encourage your teen to see family and friends: Without pushing, encourage a troubled teen to spend time with friends and/or family, as being around other people could make them feel better. Resist the temptation to make social arrangements on their behalf, as that could cause resentment.
  7. Urge your teen not to demand too much of themselves: Perfectionism may increase the risk of suicide for some teens. Individuals who demand a lot from themselves — whether that’s good grades or athletic achievements — may experience disproportionate feelings of shame or guilt when they don’t meet their own expectations. Remind teens that failure is a learning experience and nothing to be ashamed of.
  8. Encourage your teen who is undergoing treatment to be patient: If your teen is in treatment for depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, encourage them to take it day-by-day, and let them know it may be a while before they feel better.
  9. Prohibit access to any guns or potentially lethal medications: This is important in any home where guns are present. Ensure they are safely locked away (and ideally not loaded). Also, lock up any medications that could be deadly in large doses — sedatives and prescription painkillers, for example.

Counseling for Troubled Youth

Rawhide Youth Services offers counseling services for troubled teens. If your child needs help for suicidal thoughts, emotional distress, or other challenges, we encourage you to contact us today.