Preventing Youth Suicide

The recent suicide of Phoebe Prince who was literally bullied to death has caused me to republish an article that I was asked to write by a Mental Health Unit.  The death of one youth is one too many but when it is by suicide, it is even more painful.  For parents, educators, and teens, feel free to share this article.


Franklin P. Schargel

It doesn’t seem right that a young person between the ages of 11 and 19- who has lived for such a short time and has a long life ahead – would choose to die.  Look up “teenage suicide’ at and you will find 1,100,000 “hits.” And with good reason:


  • In the next 24 hours 1,439 teens will attempt suicide.  As many as 250,000 adolescents made a serious unsuccessful effort to kill themselves last year.
  • Every 90 minutes a teenager or young adult is successful in killing themselves.
  • According to experts, suicide is the third leading cause of teenage deaths after automobile accidents and homicide.  Almost as many teens die from suicide as the fourth through the tenth leading causes of death combined.
  • The suicide rate in the past 25 years has been decreasing, yet the rate for those between 15 and 24 has tripled. The adolescent suicide rate is nearly 33% higher than that of the overall population.
  • Many youths have sought help in the month before the suicide.
  • The ratio of male to female suicides is four to one.  However young women attempt suicide nine times more frequently. Guns are the most common means of suicide among males.  Pills are the most commonly used method of suicide for females.
  • White males have had the highest increase in suicide, which rose 50% between 1970 & 1978.  The incidence for white females increased 12%.  Suicide among young blacks has also dramatically increased.
  • Half of all children who have made one suicide attempt will make another, sometimes as many as two a year until they succeed.


Depression- A teen that is feeling suicidal may see no other way out of their problems, no other escape from emotional pain or no one to whom they can communicate about how they feel.  Depression expresses itself in a variety of ways including:  changes in appetite; chances in activity level; loss of sleep; lack on interest in activities that normally give pleasure; social withdrawal; and thoughts of death or punishment.

Substance Abuse Problems– Alcohol and some drugs are depressants.  Youths who are depressed may take these substances thinking that they will help ease the pain.  In reality, they make the situation worse.  They may limit their ability to assess risk, cloud their judgment, make good choices and think of solutions to their problems.

Teenage Stress – There are many pressures on teenagers – one’s that they have never experience before.  These include social, academic and personal, sexuality and relationship pressures. Some teens struggle with weight and eating problems, while others face learning difficulties in school. Getting in trouble in school or with the law, fighting with parents are risk factors for suicide.  A traumatic event like a breakup, failing a test, an unintended pregnancy or getting into an accident can bring on suicidal tendencies.

Violence – There is more violence in the newspapers, on television, on electronic games and in the movies.  Many children live in increasingly violent neighborhoods.  There is increased violence in the homes including familial violence and sexual abuse.  And it is easier to get the tools (guns and pills) of suicide.  If there is a gun in the home, youths are 5 times more likely to commit suicide than in homes without a gun.

Lack of parental interest – Many children grow up in single –parent households.  Others have two working parents. According to one study, 90% of suicidal teenagers believed their families did not understand them.

Data show that families are spending less time together and more of our young people are spending more and more time in front of television screens.


The list below lists the most prevalent causes of youth suicide.  The list is not all-inclusive but should assist educators in identifying the most common warning signs. Not all youngsters who exhibit these signs will commit suicide.  However the greater the number of warning signs, the greater the likelihood of suicide predictors.

Warning Signs

Youth are most at risk of attempting suicide are those who:

  • Made previous suicide attempts
  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Feels that “it is all my fault”
  • Exhibit anger
  • Signs of serious depression, moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
  • Is a loner.
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in the sleeping or eating habits of the student.
  • Cries often
  • Talks about being bullied
  • Chronic or sudden truancy
  • Gives away possessions
  • Recent suicide of a loved one or family member
  • Preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in their personal appearance
  • Turmoil within family (divorce, remarriage, separation, merging of two families)
  • Have a family history of suicide
  • Have had a recent stressful event or loss in their lives
  • Have easy access to lethal methods, especially guns
  • Show signs of changes in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Exhibit rebellious behavior or running away.
  • Have difficulty concentrating or decline in quality of school work
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Gives verbal hints, such as “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” or “Nothing matters.”
  • Conflicts around sexual orientation
  • Experienced a romantic break up
  • Accessibility of firearms

  • Increased pressure to perform, achieve, be responsible
  • Taking unnecessary risks

The greater the number of warning signs, the greater the risk.


  1. While no one single symptom – or even a combination of factors is a predictor of suicide. If you suspect that a student is suicidal, teachers and students should tell a counselor or an administrator.
  2. Always take suicidal comments very seriously.  If a student says that he or she is thinking about suicide, you need to take the comments seriously.  If you assume that the person is only seeking attention, you may be making a serious and potentially fatal decision.
  3. Listen attentively to everything that a potential suicide person has to say. Encourage the person talk as much as he or she wants to.  Listen closely so that you can be as supportive as possible, and learn as much as possible about what is cause the pain.
  4. Comfort the person with words of encouragement. There is no script to follow in these situations.
  5. Don’t lecture or point out all the reasons a person has to live. Instead, listen and reassure the individual that depression and suicidal tendencies can be treated.
  6. If you suspect that the individual is at high risk of suicide, do not leave the person alone. If you are in doubt, call 911.
  7. Know your limits. Most of us have not been trained in how to handle situations like this.  Be supportive; listen attentively; let the person know that you are deeply concerned.
  8. There are a number of local suicides “hotlines.” Their numbers are listed in your local telephone directories.  Check the numbers in front of your telephone directory or call the emergency numbers.  There is a National Suicide Helpline-1800-SUICIDE.  These telephone lines are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained professional who can help without ever identifying the name of the individual calling.  All calls are confidential.

Website Resources


American Academy of Pediatrics

Teen Suicide

Teens Health,

Franklin Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor, and school administrator.  Mr. Schargel is currently a consultant and Senior Managing Associate.  He presents workshops on at-risk learners and preventing school dropouts.  He is also the author of 12 books dealing with school reform.  His latest book, 152 Ways To Keep Students in School” is a national best seller.