Why do teens kill themselves? Young people seem to have everything to live for. What could be so wrong that a teen would want to take his or her own life?
A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem There is no single cause for suicide. Every suicide is different. Sometimes the cause is never known. In general, teens choose suicide to solve problems that overwhelm them. They may want to escape a desperate situation. They may want to stop negative thoughts and feelings. Suicidal teens may feel helpless and alone. Most often, they also are depressed.
Allison, Age 18 Allison is pregnant and scared. The baby's father refuses to help. He and his mother moved out of state shortly after Allison told him about the baby.
Allison can't tell her parents. They would be so disappointed in her. Allison can't bear to hurt them. She feels so hopeless and alone. In her mind, there is only one way out--suicide.
Suicide sometimes is called a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This may be true for teens who are thinking of suicide. Teens lack life experience. They haven't lived long enough to know that most problems are temporary. Teens often lack problem-solving skills that could help them cope. That is why it is important for teens who are thinking of suicide to talk with someone. No problem is so big that it can't be solved with help.
At a Glance Teen suicides and adult suicides differ in some ways. Adults are more likely to complete suicide attempts. They plan more carefully. Adults tend to kill themselves because of serious illness or overwhelming problems such as debt, Loneliness following the death of a spouse or partner can be a reason for adult suicide.
A suicide trigger is an event that causes a teen to take his or her life. Most often the teen who reacts to a suicide trigger has depression. The suicide trigger might be a divorce or death in the family. It might be one more bad event in a series of bad events. The teen might not be able to handle one more stressful situation. Common triggers for teen suicide include:
Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
Arguing with a parent
Getting a failing grade
Losing a competition
Getting blamed for something
The depressed teen might have thought about suicide for many months. The suicide trigger puts the teen over the edge.
Myth Vs. Fact
Myth: Schools should not tall< about suicide. Talking about suicide may give a teen the idea to kill himself or herself Fact: You don't give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true. Discussing the subject openly can help prevent suicide.
Unrealistic Views of Death
Many reasons teens give for suicide reveal unrealistic views of death. Some teens truly do not understand how final death is. One girl said that she imagined herself dead for only a little while. A boy said that he wished only parts of him were dead.
Books and movies often show a romantic view of death. They make death seem glamorous and heroic. Teens, especially girls, may connect love with death. They may be willing to die for love.
Henry, Age 15
Henry is an outsider. He doesn't know why, but the other kids at school don't like him. They steal his lunch and call him names. They trip him in the hallway.
Henry feels angry and depressed. He thinks about killing himself and then fantasizes about his funeral. In his fantasy, the kids from school are standing by his grave. They are all crying and saying how sorry they are. They wish they hadn't been so mean to Henry. - Peacock, Judith; Chapter 2: why do teens kill themselves?; Teen Suicide; 2000.
Permission to Grieve for Survivors of a Loved One's Suicide
- Utah Violence & Injury Prevention Program. Permission to Grieve for Survivors of a Loved One's Suicide.
Reflection Exercise #7
The preceding section contained information regarding why teens kill themselves. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bartik, W. J., Maple, M., & McKay, K. (2020). Youth suicide bereavement and the continuum of risk. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. Advance online publication.
Braun, M., Till, B., Pirkis, J., & Niederkrotenthaler, T. (2020). Suicide prevention videos developed by and for adolescents: A qualitative study. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. Advance online publication.
Howard Sharp, K. M., Russell, C., Keim, M., Barrera, M., Gilmer, M. J., Foster Akard, T., Compas, B. E., Fairclough, D. L., Davies, B., Hogan, N., Young-Saleme, T., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2018). Grief and growth in bereaved siblings: Interactions between different sources of social support. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 363–371.
What are common triggers for suicide experienced by teen clients? To select and enter your answer go to Test.