Here are answers to some common questions about suicide. Check the links at the right for more help on each topic.
Why do some teenagers die by suicide?
What are the most common warning signs?
How can we tell if a teen is planning suicide?
Are there particular youth who are more at risk of suicide?
Is there an increased risk for suicide because of bullying?
Are the suicide rates different for males and females?
If someone suspects that a friend or family member is considering suicide, what should they do?
How likely is it that I can better if I’m depressed?
Does self-injury, like cutting, mean that someone is planning to die by suicide?
Why are youth in rural areas and American Indian nations statistically more at risk for suicide?
What are common myths about teen suicide?
How can schools and communities work together to prevent suicide?
How do families react when a teen family member dies by suicide?
Is it okay for a school to plant a tree or dedicate a bench in memory of a youth who has died by suicide?
1. Why do some teenagers die by suicide?
We don’t know for sure, because when youth die by suicide they take the answers with them. But teens who attempt suicide and survive tell us that they wanted to die to end the pain of living. They are often experiencing a number of stressors and feel that they do not have the strength or desire to continue living. We also believe that the majority of youth who die by suicide have a mental disorder, like depression, which is often undiagnosed, untreated or both. Anyone can be at risk of suicide if they become overwhelmed by stress and don’t find their way to help and support.
Learn more about depression in teens
2. What are the most common warning signs?
Some estimate as many as 80% of those thinking about suicide want others to be aware of their emotional pain and stop them from dying. A warning sign does not automatically mean a person is going to attempt suicide, but it should be taken seriously. The warning signs that we pay particular attention to are: talking, writing, drawing, or texting about death or suicide, making a suicide plan, giving away prized possessions, preoccupation with death, signs of depression, hopelessness and anxiety, increased drug and alcohol use, especially when combined with a prior suicide attempt.
Learn more to recognize the warning signs for suicide
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues for college students and where and when to seek help.
3. How can we tell if a teen is planning suicide?
Learning how to recognize warning signs will help know when to start asking questions and offering support. Materials on this website offer intervention strategies and lots of information to identify warning signs. Center For Health and Learning and the UMatter team help train young people in schools and communities, as well as professionals working with youth such as counselors, parents, educators, and emergency workers. We believe that youth from pre-teens to young adulthood are sometimes in the best position to help friends at risk of suicide.
Take the Warning Signs Quiz if you are worried about someone
4. Are there particular youth who are more at-risk of suicide?
Research shows that certain racial, cultural or sexual minority groups may be at higher risk of suicide due to discrimination and social isolation. However, the largest number of suicides occur among white, non-Hispanic males. One minority group that has been seeing increasing suicide risk is youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual (LGB) Transgender youth may also be at a higher risk, but not enough research has been done to make this link.
Connect to the Trevor Project
5. Is there an increased risk for suicide because of bullying?
The relationship between bullying and suicide is not clear. Persistent bullying has been associated with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Multiple behavioral, emotional, and social problems, are also linked to bullying which can increase the risk for suicidal thoughts. The media has been taking links between bullying and suicide further than we consider safe. When the media uses language that discusses these links unsafely, risk of suicide contagion is increased.
Learn more about safe messaging and the media
6. Are the suicide rates different for males and females?
In Vermont and across the country, males are much more likely to die by suicide. Females have a higher incidence of attempts that result in hospitalization. Males tend to choose methods of suicide that are more lethal than females.
Read more suicide statistics
7. If someone suspects that a friend or family member is considering suicide, what should they do?
There are three very important things to do if you notice the warning signs for suicide or the young person tells you directly that they are thinking about suicide. The first thing is to always show the person that you are concerned about them – listen without judgment, ask about their feelings and avoid trying to come up with a solution to their problem. Next ask directly about suicide – be direct without being confrontational; say “are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?” Finally, if the answer to your question is “yes” or you think it is yes, go get help – call a crisis line, visit the school counselor, tell a parent and go with your friend or family member to someone with professional skills who can help.
Befriend a person in despair.
Offer support and reassurance.
Never keep talk of suicide a secret!
Find someone to talk to about your concerns
8. How likely is it that I can get better if I’m depressed?
About 80% of people who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully. Mental Health professionals are trained to identify and treat many different forms of issues relating to depression. Talk to a mental health counselor if you feel unable to control your anxiety, anger, stress, worries and other conditions that effect your well being.
9. Does self-injury, like cutting, mean that someone is planning to die by suicide?
Self-injury, like cutting wrists, is not considered to be a suicide attempt. However, acts of self harm show distress which may indicate that depression, high levels of stress or other factors are leading someone to self destructive behavior. Whatever the reasons, it is important that this call for help be answered by showing concern and offering assistance, where possible. Teenage years are very stressful. Kids can take steps to improve their ability to get through to adulthood in a healthy way.
Learn more about building resiliency
10. Why are youth in rural areas and American Indian nations statistically more at risk for suicide?
Some regions of the United States have higher rates of death by suicide. Statistically kids in largely rural territories, including the vast land allocations to Native American (Indian) reservations have higher rates of death by suicide. Reasons for this are not entirely clear, but indicators such as poverty, diminished resources and limited activities are suggested causes. Another known factor is the relative ease with which kids are able to get a hold of lethal means, such as guns and pills. Statistically, firearms account for 55% of the fatal method used for suicides in the United States. Since people are dying by fatal injury from weapons, some states have passed laws restricting access to lethal means, while others even allow kids to own guns.
Learn more about suicide prevention and lethal means restrictions
11. Can you give someone suicidal thoughts by talking about suicide?
No. If you ask directly about suicide you will not “plant” the idea in the brain of a teenager. Instead you will create an opportunity to offer help. Teens who talk about suicide are looking for more than your attention. Take all of their talk seriously.
Learn more about how to talk to teens about suicide
12. How can schools and communities work together to prevent suicide?
Helping communities and schools prevent suicide comes in many forms, but information and conversation are really important. UMatter team offers trainings for professionals in schools, universities, mental health centers, law enforcement, emergency care, faith communities, primary care, social services, as well as for parents. These trainings cover all sorts of topics from learning warnings signs, knowing what to do, teaching prevention curriculum to kids, using safe messaging when talking about suicide, methods of restricting access to lethal means, cultural indicators for suicidal behaviors, and other subjects to assist Vermont communities with their efforts in suicide prevention and recovery from suicide.
Learn more about UMatter trainings
13. How do families react when a teen family member dies by suicide?
Most feel a combination of emotions: anger, sadness, guilt, shame and fear. They wonder what they could have done and why they didn’t do more. Suicide is different from other kinds of sudden death because the reason for the death is difficult to understand. With a car accident there is an external explanation or cause – an icy road, loss of vehicle control, etc. With a homicide, the grief-stricken can point to a perpetrator. With suicide, we don’t have an external cause, and so we ask ourselves over and over: ‘why?’
Learn more about how families and communities cope with loss from suicide
14. Is it okay for a school to plant a tree or dedicate a bench in memory of a youth who has died by suicide?
These types of memorials can keep the death ‘alive’ and serve as a grim reminder of the loss. Because of the real concern about contagion there is a delicate balance between commemorating the life of the deceased and glamorizing a suicide.
Learn more about how schools can inform themselves about responding to a suicide