September is Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds. Northwestern School of Medicine has a resource page on teen suicide that will help you educate yourself and talk with your teen about the issue. In addition, a new law in Illinois will require school districts that issue identification cards to students in grades 6 through 12 to include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) on the card. In addition, any district or associated organization (e.g., a PTA/PTSA) that provides a custom-printed planner for students must include that information as well.

As the Northwestern resource page indicates, the adolescence is a time of change, so the risk factors for suicide may be different as a child ages. Among the risk factors for teens are:

  • Existing mental health or substance use disorder (depression, anxiety, and alcohol use are most common)
  • Romantic breakups
  • Peer or social conflict
  • Firearm in the household
  • Exposure to suicidal behavior of others
  • Prior suicide attempt(s)

The Northwestern page also notes that self-injury such as cutting, burning, or picking at skin is not necessarily a predecessor to suicide. It is, however, a way your teen is showing that something is wrong, and you should seek mental health support for your child if they are self-harming. Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping behavior
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Neglect of personal appearance
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Lack of response to praise
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or crying spells
  • Posts on social media suggesting feelings of isolation or depression
  • Talking about or otherwise indicating plans to commit suicide

Many of these signs may also be symptoms of depression, so if your child is showing any of them, seek mental health support for them. If your teen is in immediate danger due to a suicide threat or attempt, call 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline(800-273-8255) is free, confidential, and available at any time to support those in need. Calls to the Lifeline are routed to the center closest to your area code that can provide you with local resources.