Suicidal behavior. Is it a problem? Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers. Suicide attempts are an extremely serious issue. Yet, the “last straw” events that lead teenagers to attempt suicide are very common. They include situations such as family conflict or a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Another possibility could be things such as legal problems and school difficulties. The availability of firearms coupled with the increased use of alcohol has been suggested as playing a role in the increased suicide rate. Especially among adolescents who don’t think before they act

The underlying motives for a suicide attempt are often similar to the motives of adults. But this can vary from one teenager to another. Possible motives include really wanting to die or expressing anger. Other motives could be getting relief from a terrible state of mind and escaping a difficult situation. It could even be caused by being disappointed by a trusted person.

Warning Signs

Adolescents who complete suicide often talk about it or give warning signals prior to the act. These signals may include:

  • Written or verbal statements about death or the desire to end one’s life
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Abrupt changes in mood or behavior, such as ending long term friendships
  • Signs of depression such as changes in eating and sleeping, apathy, statements about feeling hopeless, and looking very sad

These signs don’t always mean that a teenager is suicidal. But they should be a signal that there is an emotional issue. Consequently, an emotion that needs to be addressed.

Start Talking

If at all concerned, parents should not be afraid to ask a teenager if he or she is thinking about suicide. Show concern and ask questions calmly. This is the first step when dealing with suicidal adolescents. Ask the teen how they feel. And if they have thoughts of ending their life. As a result, this keeps open the lines of communication. And sets the stage for professional intervention. Another question to ask is if the teen has a specific plan to act on a suicidal impulse. If so, the risk is greater and there is a need for immediate intervention.

When to Get Help for Suicidal Behavior

Has the adolescent had suicidal thoughts? Or have they made a suicide attempt? Professional help should be sought immediately to protect the adolescent from self-harm. A plan can be put into place. Which will involve step by step processes for diffusing negative emotions?

This can include:

Implementing coping skills at lower levels of distress. First of all, it’s much easier to manage smaller emotions. Rather than to wait until there is a full-blown crisis on your hands. Learn effective coping skills to manage stress, anger, embarrassment, etc.

Separating from a distressing trigger. Sometimes just a time out will work. But for more heated issues, establishing a respite location at a home of a trusted friend or family member may be needed to allow enough time and space to cool things off and regroup.

Professional Intervention. Above all else, if your child is a danger to themselves or others they should be taken somewhere where trained professionals can help evaluate and redirect the situation. This can be done by calling 911 or going to your local emergency room.

After the Initial Crisis

Once the initial crisis is over, treatment with a mental health professional should continue. It often takes a number of sessions to help adolescents figure out what is happening in their lives that has led to suicidal behavior and to help them learn ways to better manage these stressors. Some step-down programs may be suggested for serious issues that allow the teen to continue to receive intensive support and emotional guidance. Others may be discharged into outpatient therapy that may or may not include medication.

Behavioral techniques and family therapy are highly recommended to help the teen change negative patterns of behavior and reacting. Similarly, it helps families communicate better and improve their ability to resolve conflict. Treatment must address the underlying problems that lead to suicidal feelings and behavior. These problems might include depression, aggressive behavior, alcohol, and other drug abuse, or impulsive behavior. There are a number of cognitive-behavioral treatments that hold promise in addressing these difficult problem behaviors. If these underlying problems are better controlled, there is a significant reduction in suicidal feelings and behavior.

We’re Here to Support

If your family is in need of professional interventions or outpatient counseling, please contact us right away for help. Our highly qualified, caring therapists can help you and your family get back on track and live a better life! Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients. So check out our videos to learn more about how we can help.


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

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