People of all ages are susceptible to experiencing stress, confusion and depression from situations or events occurring in their lives. This can often be experienced as so overwhelming that it leads the person to consider suicide as a "solution". The onset of clinical conditions such as depression or dealing with a negative life circumstance can be so painful that the person's thoughts frequently turn to ideas about escaping the constant torment of their situation.
This is particularly common in teenagers who lack the resources gained through life experience to overcome difficult life situations. Teens who reach this point feel that they lack the resources to cope with their problems and try to communicate feelings of hopelessness and the expression of insurmountable stress through suicide. While some teenagers attempt suicide as a desperate act to get help from others without the intention of ending life, there are those who have lost all hope that help is obtainable that the goal to end their life becomes a reality.
Suicide prevention is best achieved by anticipating the precipitating factors for suicidal ideation and being aware of the warning signs of suicidal intent. Even if the teen denies suicidal intent, behavioural clues and thinking patterns can indicate the teenager's level of suicidality. Depression, hopelessness and anxiety are found to be important factors in suicidal ideation and behaviour. This is often accompanied by feelings of isolation and perceived loss of control over their environment. All-or-nothing thinking emerges in which no options for coping or overcoming problems seem possible.
Suicidal intent refers to how committed the teen is to dying. Suicidal lethality refers to the dangerousness of the teen's intended method of dying. Warning signs that a teenager is thinking about suicide include:
- Lack of hope for the future: the teen feels that there is no hope for the future, and things will never improve
- Preoccupation with death and dying: the teen imagines the world without their existence, or frequently talks about death or dying. For example they might say things like, "I wish I'd never been born"
- Feelings of worthlessness: the teen expresses self-hatred and self-loathing and perceives him- or her-self as a burden.
- Social withdrawal: withdrawing from family and friends and isolating self from social interaction.
- Self-destructive or self-harming behaviour: purposely taking unnecessary risks and risk-taking behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, or engaging in self-injury such as cutting.
- Saying good-bye: unexpected visits to family and friends and talking as though they will never see them again.
- Getting affairs in order: the person appears to be making preparations for after their death such as suddenly giving away prized possessions or making arrangements for pets and family members.
- Seeking out suicide implements: the person has a sudden interest in obtaining lethal objects such as pills, guns, knives, etc.
- Sudden sense of calm: this is often the most surprising warning sign as many people remark that the person who committed suicide appeared very happy before the suicide. If there is a sudden change from being depressed and experiencing feelings of hopelessness to displaying a sense of resolve, this could indicate that the teen has made peace with the decision to end their life.
The more well thought out and detailed the teenager's suicide "plan", the higher the risk of follow-through. Providing social support to a suicidal teenager is an acknowledgment that he or she feels alone and therefore having social support reduces that sense of isolation. Suicide threats or behaviour should never be ignored as this is often a cry for help. Many people make the false assumption that broaching the subject with someone you suspect to be at risk, will be a catalyst to suicidal thinking. On the contrary, speaking openly and non-judgementally can often prove to be one of the most helpful preventative measures you can take.