Every year nearly 5,000 American teenagers and young adults kill themselves.
That makes suicide the third-leading cause of death among those 15 to 24 years old, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Only accidents and homicides kill more.
It's important that parents understand what may lead teens to suicide, learn the warning signs, and know what they can do to help.
Some Basics Facts About Teen Suicide
-More young people die by their own hand than from cancer, heart disease and AIDS combined. -Girls attempt suicide at a rate double that of boys. -But four times as many boys as girls die by suicide. -Boys tend to use more lethal methods, like hanging, jumping from heights, or guns.
[g]High Risk Groups for Teen Suicide
Teens commit suicide for many reasons, but some common circumstances have been identified. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the overwhelming majority of those who kill themselves, including teens, have a have a psychological or substance-related disorder at the time of death.
These disorders make it harder to deal with stressful situations teenagers may face, like failing a test, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one or seeing parents divorce.
Some mental disorders, like depression, can be difficult to recognize in young people, says Dr. Richard O'Conner, a psychotherapist and author of the book Active Treatment of Depression. Symptoms can easily be mistaken for common teenage behavior like anger, sullenness or acting out.
Also among teens at higher risk of suicide are those who exhibit one or more of these characteristics.
-Perform poorly in school -Have access to guns -Experience violence at home -Previously attempted suicide -Have a family history of depression or suicide -Suffered physical or sexual abuse -Are struggling to cope with issues of sexual orientation -Have a friend who committed suicide.
Warning Signs of Teen Suicide
According to the National Mental Health Association, four of five teens who kill themselves have given a clear warning of their intentions. Parents and friends should recognize these behaviors commonly associated with suicide.
-An obsession with death -Withdrawing from regular friends and activities -Verbal clues: "I'm going away" or "I won't see you again" -Feelings of worthlessness or guilt -Suicidal thoughts or fantasies -Giving away possessions or putting affairs in order -Talking to friends about suicide -A dramatic change in appearance or personality -A severe decline in school performance or social interaction -Marked change in eating or sleeping habits.
Above all, any suicide threats or talk of death - even writings or drawings indicating a desire to die - must be taken seriously, no matter how harmless they may seem or whether the teen dismisses them as "a joke."
What Parents Should (and Shouldn't) Do to Help Prevent Teen Suicide
Be alert to your teen's behavior and feelings. If he or she seems depressed or withdrawn, watch your child carefully. Those thinking about suicide often feel helpless or alone. You can help by communicating openly. Demonstrate your willingness to listen.
If your child is hesitant to talk to you about how he or she is feeling, suggest someone else he or she can confide in. It may be another relative, a member of the clergy, a counselor at school, or your physician ? anyone your child is comfortable talking with.
-Keep the lines of communication open. -Express your love and support. -Ask questions: "You've been talking about death a lot lately. Are you having thoughts about suicide?" -Make hotline numbers available to your teen, like 1-800-SUICIDE. (1-800-784-2433) -Get help from a mental health professional.
-Don't lecture. -Don't say "But you have so much to live for," nor try to list the reasons. -Don't minimize your child's feelings. -Don't be afraid to talk with your teenager about suicide. -Don't assume anyone who talks of suicide won't really kill himself. -If the threat of suicide is immediate, don't leave your child alone. -Don't assume someone who is receiving treatment and "feeling better" won't commit suicide.