Ask Dr. Christina — SOS: Triggers and Warning Signs about Teenage Suicide!

Dear Dr. Christina,

I am afraid that my best friend who is 17 years old may be considering hurting himself after his girlfriend dumped him. He talks about how he wishes that he was never born. We used to go out after school all the time, but now I see that his behavior is changing. He is also losing weight. He’s scaring me when he talks about one day playing Russian roulette, but then he says he is only kidding. I do not want to be a snitch or get him into trouble, but I sometimes see or hear on TV and the news about young people actually killing themselves. Am I just blowing this out of proportion?  

I appreciate any advice you can give me.


Dear Randi,

I am very thankful that you have written to me. You have asked a very important question and may have saved many teenagers’ lives by making everyone aware of not only your friend but about all teenagers in general.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third highest cause of death between the ages of 15-24.

Suicide is one of the most preventable forms of death. If we all pay more attention to others, just like you, we can perhaps help stop these horrible young deaths from happening. There are at least two suicide attempts to every completed teen suicide. Boys commit suicide four times more often than girls. Boys also happen to use more lethal methods such as firearms, hanging themselves, or jumping from great heights. Girls, on the other hand, attempt suicide twice as often than boys by overdosing or cutting themselves.

The fact that you want to learn more about what can trigger someone to commit suicide may help to save lives. The aftermath of the loss of someone close to you may leave you with depression and feelings of helplessness as well as devastation. Many of us that have been left behind are sometimes left wondering if we could have done something different.

Not all teenagers who attempt suicide leave tips or give us even slight hints as to how they are feeling. Many don’t really know how to express themselves. So, all self-defeating behaviors must be taken seriously.

Let’s look at some signs or triggers of those at risk:

1)    Teenagers having psychiatric disorders—depression, bipolar, anxiety, low self-esteem, hopelessness and alcohol/drug abuse
2)    Family stressors, finances or abuse
3)    Previous suicide attempt
4)    Health issues or crisis (i.e.; death of a loved one)
5)    Environmental risk—access to weapons such as knives and guns
6)    Problem with sexual orientation
7)    History of physical/mental abuse, especially bullying
8)    Family history of psychiatric problems

Here are some warning signs to watch for:

1) Reckless or impulsive behavior
2) Self-harming behavior
3) Direct and indirect statements regarding death and dying
4) Suicide notes
5) Giving away prized possessions
6) Change in appearance, behavior and/or sleep
7) Losing interest in life
8) Weight gain or loss
9) Difficulty concentrating

Here are some things you can do:

1) First and foremost, remain calm and do not leave the person you are concerned about alone.
2) Listen and be compassionate.
3) Keep a line of communication open.
4) Don’t argue or take anything personally.
5) Do not keep your conversation a secret. Let someone know your loved one is in trouble.
6) Reassure them that they can be helped and that they are not alone.
7) Get help from mental health counselors, parents…etc. Do not attempt to handle this by yourself.
8) Watch and listen to a person who is withdrawn or depressed.
9) Ask questions such as a) have you been thinking of hurting yourself?; b) have you been thinking about suicide?; and c) I have noticed that you are not acting like yourself lately. Are you feeling okay?
10) When someone has attempted suicide, don’t be afraid to talk to him or her about it. They need to know someone cares about what they do.
11) Restrict access to suicide methods and items such as firearms (most common), suffocation (2nd most used), rope, carbon monoxide poison, knives, drugs (legal or illegal), or alcohol.

Everyone has emotions, whether it is guilt, anger or feeling selfish; however, some people find it difficult to express themselves and that is okay as well. Though most teenagers give us clues days/weeks before they attempt to do harm to themselves, not all teenagers will admit their intent to hurt themselves—so any self-harming behavior should be considered dangerous.

Randi, the death of a child or teenager is the most painful loss imaginable for any parent or friend, for that child has lost his or her life before he or she has really even started living.

A split second decision based on an irrational thought can destroy not only your friend but all those who love and care about him.

Teenage suicide is a growing health concern and your letter has brought to the forefront an issue no one likes to discuss. I would like to thank you for sending me this SOS letter to give us all a wakeup call to help save our teenagers—and hopefully to get your friend the help he needs so he can feel that life is worth living again, regain his strength, and begin enjoying his life again.

My thoughts and good wishes are for you, your friend, and for saving our teenagers so we can give them all a chance to live a fulfilling life.

With much respect and gratitude to you,

Dr. Christina

  • Posted By: DRC Editor
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