Suicide in Youth

What you can
do about it

What would you do if one of your friends threatened to commit suicide?

Would you laugh it off?
Would you assume that the threat was just a joke or a way of getting attention?

Would you be shocked and tell him or her not to say things like that?
Would you ignore it?

If you reacted in any of those ways you might be missing an opportunity to save a life, perhaps the life of someone who is very close and important to you.  You might later find yourself saying, ď I didnít believe she was seriousĒ or ďI never thought heíd really do it.Ē  

The American Association of Suicidology estimates that suicide claims 35,000 lives each year in the United States , but the true figure may be much higher.  A growing number of those lives are young people in their teens and twenties.  Although it is difficult to get an accurate count because many suicides are covered up or reported as accidents, suicide is now thought to be the second leading cause of death among young people.  

If someone you know is suicidal, your ability to recognize the signs and your willingness to do something about it could make the difference between life and death.


No doubt you have heard that people who talk about suicide wonít really do it.  It isnít true.  Before committing suicide, people often make direct statements about their intention to end their lives, or less direct comments about how they might as well be dead or that their friends and family would be better off without them.  Suicide threats and similar statements should always be taken seriously.  

People, who have previously tried to kill themselves, even if their attempts didnít seem very serious, are also at risk.  Unless they are helped they may try again, the next time the result may be fatal.  Four out of five persons who commit suicide have made at least one previous attempt.  

Perhaps someone you know has suddenly begun to act very differently or seems to have taken on a whole new personality.  The shy person becomes a thrill seeker.  The outgoing person becomes withdrawn and unfriendly.  When such changes take place for no apparent reason or persist for a period of time, it may be a clue to an impending suicide or other serious condition.  

Making final arrangements is another possible indication of suicidal risk.  In young people, such arrangements often include giving away treasures personal possessions, such as a favorite CD collection or guitar.


If someone confides in you that he or she is thinking of suicide or shows other signs of being suicidal, donít be afraid to talk about it.  Your willingness to discuss it will show the person that you donít condemn him or her for having such feelings.  Ask questions about how the person feels and about the reasons for those feelings.  Ask whether the method of suicide has been considered, whether any specific plans have been made and whether any steps have been taken to carry out those plans, such as getting hold of whatever means of suicide has been decided upon (for example, collecting pills or a weapon).  

Donít worry that your discussion will encourage the person to go through with the plan.  On the contrary, it will help him or her to know that someone is willing to be a friend.  It may save a life.  On the other hand, donít try to turn the discussion off or offer advice such as ďThink about how much better off you are than most people.  You should appreciate how lucky you are.Ē  Such comments only make the suicidal person feel more guilty, worthless, and hopeless than before.  Be a concerned and willing listener.  Keep calm.  Discuss the subject as you would any other topic of concern with a friend.


Whenever you think that someone you know is in danger of suicide, get help.  Suggest that he or she call a suicide prevention center, crisis intervention center or hospital.  Or suggest that they talk with a sympathetic teacher, parent, relative, counselor, doctor or other adult you respect.  If your friend refuses, take it upon yourself to talk with one of these people for advice on handling the situation.  

In some cases you may find yourself in the position of having to get direct help for someone who is suicidal and refuses to go for counseling.  If so, do it.  Donít be afraid of appearing to be disloyal.  People who are suicidal have given up hope.  They no longer believe they can be helped.  With time, most suicidal people can be restored to full and happy living.  But when they are feeling hopeless, their judgment is impaired.  They canít see a reason to go on living.  In that case, it is up to you to use your judgment to see that they get the help they need.  What at the time may appear to be an act of disloyalty or the breaking of a confidence could turn out to be the favor of a lifetime.  Your courage and willingness to act could save a life.

Perhaps you yourself have sometimes felt like ending your life.  Donít be ashamed of it.  Many people, young and old, have similar feelings.  Talk to someone you trust.  Things seem very bad sometimes.  But those times donít last forever.  Ask for help.  You can be helped.  Because you do deserve it.

* Suicide threats
* Statements revealing a desire to die
* Previous suicide attempts
* Sudden changes in behavior (withdrawal, apathy, moodiness)
* Depression (crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, hopelessness)
* Final arrangements (such as giving away personal possessions)


* Discuss it openly and frankly
* Show interest and support
* Get professional help

Dial 211 at any time

Dial 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Information provided by: The CT Clearinghouse and The Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center of San Mateo County, CA, in cooperation with the American Association of Suicidology.