Reducing Youth Suicide

This is part 2 in a series. In case you missed it, you can read part one here.


While there is no single cause of youth suicide, research indicates that depression is the leading cause of youth suicide. What causes young people to seek relief from depression by committing suicide? Young people have fragile personalities and many things can trigger their depression. Those causes include:

  • Bullying – Students who are bullied frequently feel that suicide is the only way to escape the taunting.
  • Being different or being perceived as being different – Students who are gay or made to feel different because they are short or too fat or too skinny or whatever resort to suicide.
  • Breakup of a physical relationship
  • Failure in school
  • Sudden death of a loved one or family member
  • Suicide of a loved one or family member
  • Family breakup by divorce or separation.
  • Copycat suicide –  Copycat suicide frequently occurs because the individual knows or sees  in the media depictions of the original suicide on television and in other media. If you’ve ever been in a school where a student has attempted or been successful in committing suicide, you know how devastating the effects it has on other students, parents, friends of the victim and staff.  Schools report that there are frequently “copycat” attempts after a reported successful attempt.


Recognizing the Signs of Depression

Students bring many of their problems into school. For some, they do not haven’t any other place or adults to turn to. School counselors, teachers and parents need to recognize the symptoms of depression in order to deal with it.



  • Feeling sad, empty, tired or numb
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Feeling angry or moody, excessive crying
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Avoiding friends; feeling alone when with friends
  • Loss of interest in things that used to be fun
  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Recurring headaches, backaches or stomachaches
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide.
  • Abrupt changes in behavior? such as mood swings, crying spells
  • Changes in school performance
  • Giving away treasured belongings
  • Suicidal threats
  • Risk taking behaviors: slashing, drinking and driving, games of risk such as racing with a train.

In dealing with depression, research indicates that depressed students need to share their thoughts with people they trust and respect including counselors, teachers and friends. Schools might consider the establishment of a peer helper system. It is important for these individuals be trained in listening skills, and various responses on what to do in problematic situations.


Warning Signs of Suicide

Suicide is preventable with young people – it just requires recognition and resources. Most schools have a written protocol for dealing with students who show signs of suicidal behavior. Unfortunately, many educators and parents do not know the signs of potential suicides nor have they been trained in how to address the problem. Like many of the other social ills that schools are forced to deal with, suicide is something that require schools to be proactive about.

Suicide is preventable but only if parents and educators know the warning signs. The list below lists the most prevalent warning signs 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. 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.
  • 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 schoolwork
  • 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.

Schools need to proactively deal with suicide. If a student indicates that they are considering suicide, then schools must take the statement seriously.

Some of the material for this article has been drawn from Creating Safe Schools: A Guide For School Leaders, Teachers, Counselors and Parents (2014) by Franklin P. Schargel © School Success Network Press