Doc Talk: Teen suicide and the warning signs

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Doc Talk: Teen suicide and the warning signs
In our weekly feature, Doc Talk, pediatric emergency doctor, Geetanjali Srivastava from Valley Children's Hospital talks about one of the leading causes of death in young people, t

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- In our weekly feature, Doc Talk, pediatric emergency doctor, Geetanjali Srivastava from Valley Children's Hospital talks about one of the leading causes of death in young people, teen suicide.

Teen Suicide


  • Suicide is death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die.
  • Suicide attempt is when someone harms themselves with the intent to end their life, but they do not die as a result of their actions.

Adolescent Pressures:

  • Fitting in socially
  • Performing well in school
  • Forming their identity
  • Need for independence
  • Expectation for behaving responsibly
  • Exploring sexual identity and relationships

Scope of the suicide a public health problem:

  • 10th leading cause of death in the United States
  • 2nd leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age
  • 120 suicides everyday=1 death every 11 minutes
  • 30 suicide attempts for every suicide
  • Suicide affects all ages and all ethnicities but at different rates
  • Suicide rates differ between boys and girls.
  • Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys-they tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves.
  • Boys die by suicide about four times as often girls-they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

Risk factors associated with teen suicide:

  • History of mental health problems-such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder
  • Major life changes (parents' divorce, parental separation, financial changes)
  • Victim of bullying, including cyberbullying
  • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Victim of child, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness
  • Feelings of distress, irritation and agitation
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of a support network, stressed relationships with parents and peers
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment


  • Includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.
  • It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.
  • Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.
  • Among students who reported being bullied, 15% were bullied online or by text.
  • Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.
  • Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.
  • Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.

Methods of Suicide:

  • The risk of suicide increases dramatically when kids and teens have access to firearms at home. That's why any gun in your home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.
  • Overdose on medications, either prescription or over the counter, is a very common method for both attempting and completing suicide. It's important to monitor carefully all medications in your home. Teens will "trade" different prescription medications at school and keep them in their locker or backpack.

Warning Signs

  • Suicide among teens often happens after a stressful life event, "a trigger", such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.
  • Talking about suicide or death in general
  • Giving hints that they might not be around anymore
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
  • Pulling away from friends or family
  • Writing songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss
  • Giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends
  • Losing the desire to take part in favorite things or activities
  • Difficulty with concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviors
  • Losing interest in school or sports

What Can Parents Do?

  • Pay attention and know the warning signs
  • It's important to see warning signs as serious, not as "attention-seeking" to be ignored.
  • It's important to realize that if teens are ignored when seeking attention, it may increase the chance of them harming themselves (or worse).
  • Keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn. Depression may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying.
  • It's important to try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a teen it can feel immense and consuming. It's important not to minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
  • If your teen doesn't feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child's doctor.
  • Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen's head.
  • It's always a good idea to ask, even though doing so can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to explain why you're asking. For instance, you might say: "I've noticed that you've been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?"

Coping with stress--Tips for Kids/Teens

  • Talk to and stay connected to others (Parents, or other relatives, friends, teachers, coach, family doctor, member of your place of worship)
  • Talking with someone can help you make sense out of your experience and figure out ways to feel better. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.
  • Get active. Go for a walk, play sports, play a musical instrument, or join an after-school program. Volunteer with a community group that promotes nonviolence or another school or community activity that you care about. These can be positive ways to handle your feelings and to see that things are going to get better.
  • Take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine. By keeping yourself healthy, you will be better able to handle a tough time.
  • Take information breaks. Pictures and stories about a disaster can increase worry and other stressful feelings. Taking breaks from the news, Internet, and conversations about the disaster can help calm you down.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 273-8255.