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Teen Suicide Prevention Key: Webinar Suicidal R&PT

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Depression in teens too often leads to a suicide attempt. But experts say that teen suicides can be prevented by recognizing warning signs of depression.

“Each suicide attracts a lot of attention, but we need to pay attention to the depression that typically precedes it,” said Dr. Deborah E. Healey, associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry resident, University of Virginia Health System.

Suicidal teens are at times are helpless because they are experiencing a chemical change in their brain that they have difficulty control. They can be depressed for no apparent reason and feel guilty, which makes their state of mind even more fragile.

Signs of teen depression include:

  • Changes in sleeping habits. Always feeling tired despite a lot of sleep.
  • Changes in eating, weight and dress. Inability to focus or make decisions can result in not eating, noticeable weight loss or wearing the same clothes every day.
  • Sudden disinterest in friends or activities. Social withdrawal and unexplainable disinterest activities previously enjoyed, or sharp decline in school performance.
  • “Pre-suicide gestures.” Giving away treasured possessions, writing letters or visits to say goodbye and self-mutilation by extensive skin punctures, burns or cuts.
  • Drug or alcohol use. Substance use can be both a cause and a symptom of depression.

Other warning signs of Suicide

  • Talking or joking about suicide. Statements about being reunited with a deceased loved one.
  • Statements about hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness. Example: “Life is useless.” “Everyone would be better off without me.” “It doesn’t matter. I won’t be around much longer anyway.” “I wish I could just disappear.”
  • Preoccupation with death. Example: recurrent death themes in music, literature, or drawings. Writing letters or leaving notes referring to death or “the end”.
  • Suddenly happier or calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Unusual visiting or calling people one cares about – saying their good-byes.
  • Giving possessions away, making arrangements, setting one’s affairs in order.
  • Self-destructive behavior (alcohol/drug abuse, self-injury or mutilation, promiscuity).
  • Risk-taking behavior (reckless driving/excessive speeding, carelessness around bridges, cliffs or balconies, or walking in front of traffic).
  • Having several accidents resulting in injury. Close calls or brushes with death.
  • Obsession with guns or knives.

Motive for Suicide:

  • To seek help.
  • To escape from an intolerable situation.
  • To get relief from a terrible state of mind.
  • To try to influence some particular person.
  • To show how much they loved someone.
  • To make things easier for others.
  • To make people sorry.
  • To frighten someone or to get their own way.
  • To make people understand how desperate they were feeling.
  • To find out whether they are really loved.
  • To do something in an unbearable situation.
  • Loss of control.
  • Desire to die.

What to do:

  • Get help. School friends and classmates who hear anything about a suicide intention from a peer need to tell a trusted adult at school or at home, even if they have promised secrecy. These are not good secrets to keep when a life is in danger.
  • Ask teens about their feelings. Parents and teachers need to be willing to both ask and listen in a nonjudgmental way to what teens want to talk about, rather than switching into lecture mode. If teens do mention suicide, immediately talk with them. This gives a teen permission to verbalize their thoughts and also tells them you care. Ask these three direct questions: (1) how often they think about it; (2) how soon they are thinking of doing it; and (3) how they plan to do it.
  • Seek professional help. Parents and their teen should consult a physician who is experienced with diagnosing and treating depression. Intervention may require both medication and psychotherapy.

Other Do’s and some Don’ts:


  • Take the threat seriously.
  • Be direct: ask the person if s/he is contemplating suicide.
  • Let the person know that you care and want to help but be realistic about how you can help.
  • Explain that you must contact a trusted (i.e. teacher, coach, minister, counselor, social worker, relative, neighbor); if the person protests, remind her/him that s/he trusted you enough to share her/his feelings, now s/he must trust you enough to know what to do.
  • Be willing to listen.
  • Be non-judgmental.
  • Stay focused on the problem that suicide is designed to resolve.
  • Offer hope that it can be solved by other means.
  • Stress that suicide is permanent and irreversible.
  • Use his/her ambivalence to your own advantage.
  • If there is an immediate risk, call 911.


  • Don’t offer simple solutions to serious problems.
  • Don’t tell him/her that everything will be O.K.
  • Don’t try to minimize his/her feelings or situation or try to tell him/her how to feel.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy.
  • Don’t leave the person alone until you can arrange for support, either immediate or long-term.

IN EMERGENCY CALL 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) National Hotline

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