The answer to this sad and shocking question is, you can’t ever know for sure. You may have all the supports in place and still lose them. Suicide is complicated. There is no ‘One Size Fits All’ solution.
When you are taking the time to think about the answer to this heartbreaking question, there are two areas you can work through first. They are risk factors and warning signs. These are different things.
Sometimes, and usually through no fault of their own, the dice is loaded against a young person. There can be a higher frequency of events that will make it more likely a teenager may consider, attempt or die by suicide.
These events are:
- A prior attempt at suicide
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Losing a close friend or family member to suicide
- Relationship problems and conflicts happening around them
- Ongoing bullying issues, including cyberbullying
Risk factors are NOT warning signs. They are simply indicators that a person may be at risk of suicide.
Warning signs are different and separate from risk factors. Teenagers who display warning signs may be at immediate risk of suicide. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour, trust yourself and take the opportunity to connect if you notice a change.
Warning signs are:
- Threatening to harm or kill themselves
- Giving away their possessions
- Dramatic mood changes
- Having a suicide plan
- Having the ability to carry out the plan
You might hear them say:
- “I just want it all to end.”
- “I’m a burden.”
- “There’s no point.”
- “I just can’t take it anymore.”
- “It’s hopeless.”
- “I’m hopeless.”
- “It’s all my fault.”
- “We won’t be talking again.”
You might see:
- A sudden change in the way they have been acting (e.g. from depressed to relieved).
- A change in sleeping patterns.
- A change in eating patterns.
- Hoarding of pills.
- Looking for rope/bleach/weapons.
- Drinking too much and overusing drugs.
- Avoiding things they would normally enjoy.
- Avoiding family, friends, school, work.
- Engaging in dangerous or risky behaviour (especially with cars).
- Self harming.
- A change in personal hygiene and appearance.
- Emotional outbursts.
Online changes can include:
- Visiting concerning sites that encourage self harm and suicide.
- Researching ways to take their own life.
- Making unusual posts or comments that include revenge, death, suicide, saying they want to die.
- Suddenly closing all their social media accounts.
You may feel:
- A change in their personality.
- A gut instinct that something is not right.
- A sense that they are not coping.
- Notice a new calmness/happiness after a difficult time for no particular reason.
- Sense their anger, shame, sadness, desperation, hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness, isolation, guilt.
Pay attention to warning signs and use them as an opportunity to connect.
We can miss the warning signs, especially if your young person is good at covering up their feelings or if we don’t know what we’re looking for. And sometimes there simply are no warning signs.
Having had the ‘privilege’ of having more than one (happily unsuccessful) suicide attempting family member myself, I would like to make this reflective statement: “It’s not that they want to die, it’s more that they don’t know how to live.” People who attempt suicide cannot see a way through.
If you’ve been reading this post and feeling a few triggers, I suggest you visit this page on the website https://movingthrough.net/category/suicide-prevention/ for more in-depth information, including how to have a conversation with a teenager you think may be at risk.
You can visit https://www.lifekeepers.nz/ for free suicide prevention training – this is an excellent, free short course which only takes an hour or two to complete. I really wish it had been available to me a few years ago.
And if you need to talk, click here to book a free chat. Knowing you’re not alone with your worries about your teenager can make a world of difference.