Warning Signs of Teen Suicide and Ways to Get Help

Warning Signs of Suicide and Ways to Get Help

Studies suggest that the majority of people who die by suicide give warning signs beforehand, but the signs are not always obvious. 

We all – as parents, friends, family and community members – need to be looking for the warning signs of suicide because they can present an opportunity to save a life. Here’s what to look for:

Warning Signs of Suicide:

  1. Visiting, calling or texting people to say goodbye.
  2. Looking for ways to die, such as researching methods on the internet or gathering guns, ropes, pills or knives.
  3. Making direct or indirect statements about death, suicide, or suicide ideation/plan.
  4. Preoccupation with death or dying.
  5. Sudden and extreme changes in mood or behaviors (e.g. changes in routine, behavior, appearance, or grooming habits).
  6. Increased substance abuse.
  7. Reckless, self-destructive and/or high-risk behaviors.
  8. Giving away prized possessions.
  9. Not tolerating praise or rewards.
  10. Frequent complains about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue.
  11. Signs of severe depression or any of the following:
    • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood.
    • Sleeping/appetite changes or significant changes in weight.
    • Irritability or agitation.
    • Rage or uncontrolled anger.
    • Withdrawal or isolation.
    • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities.
    • Unusual or persistent tiredness or loss of energy.
    • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
  12. Expression of any of these thoughts or feelings:
    • Trapped or desperate to escape an intolerable situation.
    • Humiliation.
    • Being a burden to others.
    • Worthlessness.
    • Hopelessness.
    • Purposelessness or having no reason to live.

Please take any of the above warnings signs seriously. If you are concerned, ask your child directly about suicide. You are not going to give him an idea that he didn’t already have.  Talk to your teen about it in a non-threatening way. Be sure to tell her that you love her and that you are committed to helping her through what may be a very difficult time. For additional ideas, please visit our Adapting for Life website.

I think it’s important to note that while suicide in teens happens more frequently than it does in younger children, it can still happen. Young children are capable of having suicidal thoughts and can act upon them. If you notice that your child is exhibiting some of the above warning signs, please get help.

Ways you can help:

  • Please take your teen to see a doctor or call a crisis line volunteer at 1-800-273-TALK. If he refuses help, saying things like, “”I love you and I don’t want to lose you,” or “Please do this for me,” or “ A professional will be able to help us work this out,” may persuade him to seek help with you.
  • Call an Ohio County Crisis number:
    o Hamilton County: (513) 281- CARE (2273)
    o Clermont County: (513) 528-SAVE (7283)
    o Butler County: 1-844-4CRISIS
    o Hamilton/West Chester: 513-894-7002
    o Middletown: 513-424-5498
    o Oxford/Hamilton: 513-523-4146
    o Warren/Clinton Counties: 1-877-695-NEED (6333)
  • If you believe your teen is in immediate danger or is feeling like she may hurt herself, then take her to the nearest emergency room.
  • We recommend you also call our Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) at 513-636-4124 prior to taking your child to the emergency room at Cincinnati Children’s. Our staff can help identify imminent risk and direct you to the mental health services that best meet your child’s needs.

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Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd

About the Author: Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd

Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd is the Program Manager for Cincinnati Children’s suicide prevention program, Adapting for Life. It has grown three-fold over the past two years, now serving over sixty area schools. Prior to this role, Stacey collaborated with children and families while performing emergency psychiatric assessments in our Emergency Departments. She earned her MA in Clinical Art Therapy from Loyola Marymount University and her MEd in Clinical Counseling from Xavier University. Stacey is also an independently licensed counselor and has provided youth counseling and mental health services for several school-based and community organizations across the greater Cincinnati area.

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  1. Lisa Brackmann February 04, 22:30
    Hi Cathy, A friend of mine was in a Cincinnati high school today when the class she was waiting for came in, but they were very very quiet. When she asked why, they told her that they had met with teachers/administrators and were told NOT to play a newer game on facebook which has suicide as the main "topic". She was appalled as I am. Do you know anything about this "game?" The students were told that two high school students have already died from playing this "game." It would be beneficial to the community to know about this "game." I'm sure FB would take it off if they knew about it. Thank you.
    • Kate Setter
      Kate Setter February 05, 14:59
      Hi Lisa - I just spoke to Cathy and her understanding is that the group on facebook has been taken down. There are several groups in our community that are coming together to further address the issue.
  2. Nancy Sand February 05, 09:56
    These signs cover all areas of a moody teenager that they may have one on Monday, and a different one on Friday with happy moods in between. We lost our 15 year 3 years ago and looking back none of this helps!
    • Cathy Strunk, RN, MSN February 06, 18:57
      Dear Nancy – We received the comment you made today on our blog post about suicide warning signs. Thank you for taking the time to leave your message. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved daughter. I know how incredibly painful it is to lose a child and have made it my life's mission to prevent tragedies like this from happening. Teen suicide is a complex issue and we know that many teens hide their thoughts and feelings from the people around them – even the people who love them the most. I actually address this point in my Surviving the Teens program through "Steps to LAST to Help Oneself." (http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/service/s/surviving-teens/Dealing-with-Depression/) I encourage troubled teens to "Let someone know what's troubling them" because they cannot expect people to read their minds or take hints. Too frequently people who are in pain do not reach out and tell others how they are feeling and their plans. I appreciate hearing your feedback and encourage you to visit our website to see how this topic is more fully addressed. Please let us know if you have any suggestions about how we can improve our message to teens and their families. Cathy
  3. Jt February 18, 21:25
    Is there a number for Warren county?
    • Rachel Camper
      Rachel Camper February 20, 06:49
      Hi Jt, The Warren/Clinton County Crisis Line is: 1-877-695-NEED(6333). Here's their website as well: http://www.mhrsonline.org/partners-and-resources/suicide_prevention_coalition-4/
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