Suicide Among Teens and

Young Adults

Preventing Suicide Among Teens and Young Adults

If you or someone you love has thought about or expressed suicidal thoughts call for help.

Help is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

If you live in Utah, call the Statewide CrisisLine at
801-587-3000 or
call the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Protective Factors that Decrease the Risk of Suicide

Suicide can be prevented by increasing what are known as protective factors in a person’s life. Protective factors are conditions or attributes in an individual, family, or community that increase the health and well-being of children and families. Protective factors may reduce suicide risk by helping people cope with negative life events, even when those events continue over a period of time. The ability to cope or solve problems reduces the chance that a person will become overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious (1).

  • Receiving effective mental health care or substance abuse treatment.
  • Positive connections to family, peers, community, and social institutions that foster resilience.
  • Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide, such as firearms or pills.
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent handling of disputes.
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation.

Family and Religious Activity Protect Utah Youth from Suicide Ideation

A 2013 report from the Utah Department of Health showed that students who had positive family environments and attended religious services weekly were less likely to have considered suicide (3).

  • Utah youth who felt that their parents considered their input in making family decisions, that they had opportunities to do fun things together as a family, and that they felt they could ask their parents for help when they had a personal problem were 25% less likely to report suicide ideation.
  • Youth who attend religious services or activities once or more a week are about half as likely to consider suicide.
  • Having family meals together 5 or more days a week lowered risk of youth suicide ideation by half.
  • Even when youth reported they had been depressed, religious activity and family togetherness were protective against suicide.

To protect their children, parents can implement simple, evidence-based strategies, such as:

  • Strengthening connections to family and community
  • Having regular family meal times
  • Safely storing firearms with a lock
  • Limiting screen time to less than three hours a day
  • Building a strong parent-child relationship with open communication
  • Teaching problem solving and emotion coping skills to youth
  • Seeking out health and behavioral healthcare for youth as needed.

Parents can help by encouraging open dialogue about difficult issues, even asking youth directly about suicide if they aren’t acting like themselves or parents are seeing warning signs. Addressing suicide directly with openness and compassion is the first action in saving a life. The next steps include getting help, making a safe environment, and helping youth identify coping skills that can get them through it.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Suicide is a complex behavior and generally cannot be attributed to a single cause or event. Research has found that approximately 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health or substance use disorder at the time of their death. Suicide is also often preceded by a lifetime history of traumatic events. Several other factors that put a person at increased risk for suicide may include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Diagnosable mental health disorder
  • Easy access to lethal methods, such as firearms or pills
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Lack of social support
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Impulsive or aggressive behaviors
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Loss of a family member or friend, especially if by suicide
  • Physical health problems like chronic pain or traumatic brain injury
  • Living with a parent/caregiver who had not graduated from high school (3)
  • Relationship or school problems
  • Stressful life event or loss
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)

Other Risk Factors for Youth Suicide

Screen Time. Students who reported playing video games or using computers for non-school related activities (social media, etc.) for three or more hours a day were twice as likely to have considered suicide compared to those who had two or fewer hours of daily screen time (3)


Bullying. Youth who were picked on or bullied at school more than once during the past year were 4.2 times more likely to have seriously considered suicide compared with their peers who had not been bullied; among those who had been bullied at least once both at school and electronically, the likelihood was 5.8 times higher (3)


Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual Students. Nationally, in 2015, 42.8% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) students seriously considered attempting suicide compared to 14.8% of heterosexual students; 29.4% of LGB students reported a suicide attempt compared to 6.4% of heterosexual students; and 34% of LGB students reported being bullied at school and 28% online compared to 19% of heterosexual students who reported being bullied at school or 14% online (4). Utah did not include the sexual orientation question on the 2015 YRBS survey meaning Utah data is not available for these measures. The Utah Department of Health plans to include this question on the 2017 YRBS. In Utah and throughout most of the U.S., no comprehensive data exists regarding the number of suicide deaths among LGBT persons because sexual orientation and gender identity are not generally collected during a police investigation of a death.

According to the Family Acceptance Project, LGBT young adults are 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide if they felt they were highly rejected by their parents. The Family Acceptance Project recommends, among other things that parents:

  • Express affection and unconditional love when a child reveals their LGBT identity.
  • Openly and respectfully discuss the child's LGBT identity with the child and others.
  • Advocate for the child when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity.
  • Require that other family members respect the LGBT child.
  • Talk with church leaders and members about supporting and welcoming LGBT people.
  • Welcoming the child's LGBT friends into the home.
  • Believe that the child can have a happy future (Caitlin Ryan, Family Acceptance Project, 2009).

The following are warning signs of immediate risk. Call 911 if you or someone you know if experiencing the following:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and/or,
  • Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or,
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Giving away prized possessions

How to Help Someone Who May be at Risk for Suicide

If your child shares thoughts of suicide with you, remain calm and express your love and concern for them, request a crisis appointment with a private therapist or your local mental health authority, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800- 273-TALK, and remove firearms and pills from the home that could be used to attempt suicide. Youth who may be in crisis or need support can download the free SafeUT app and chat with a crisis counselor 24/7.

  • Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help. Suicide is never the answer. Help is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
  • The Trevor Lifeline is available for LGBT individuals in crisis at 866-488- 7386.
  • Take any warning signs or threat of suicide seriously.
  • If you recognize these warning signs or think someone might be considering suicide, ask the person directly if they are thinking about suicide. Asking does not increase risk of a suicide attempt and can help save lives.
  • If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, take action immediately! Do not leave them alone. If the person has a weapon or is not responding to attempts to contact them, call 911 and request a Crisis Intervention Team officer to do a welfare check.
  • Listen without judgement.
  • Call a therapist or your local behavioral health authority to request a crisis appointment.
  • Remove lethal means from the home, such as firearms or medications.
  • If your child is being bullied, check out the Children's Safety Network Bullying Prevention 2015 Resource Guide for help.

References

  1. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Risk Factors and Warning Signs
  2. Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide
  3. Utah Health Status Update: Risk and Protective Factors for Youth Suicide. Utah Department of Health. February 2015.
  4. Kann L, Olsen EO, McManus T, et al. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 - United States and Selected Sites, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2016;65(No. SS-9):1-202. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6509a1.