Preventing Teen Suicide: Know the Risk Factors and Warning Signs

The following information appears courtesy of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Department of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Services:

What You Can Do:

  • Talk to your child about suicide. Don’t be afraid; you will not be “putting ideas into their heads.” Asking for help is the single skill that will protect your child. Help them to identify and connect to caring adults to talk to when they need guidance and support.
  • Know the risk factors and warning signs of suicide.
  • Remain calm. Establish a safe environment to talk about suicide.
  • Listen without judging. Allow for the discussion of experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Be prepared for expression of intense feelings. Try to understand the reasons for considering suicide without taking a position about whether or not such behavior is justified. Ask open-ended questions.
  • Supervise constantly. Do not leave your child alone.
  • Ask if your child has a plan to kill themselves, and if so, remove means. As long as it does not put the caregiver in danger, attempt to remove the suicide means such as a firearm, knife or pills.
  • Take action. It is crucial to get professional help for your child and the entire family. When you are close to a situation it is is often hard to see it clearly. You may not be able to solve the problem yourself.
Risk Factors:

While the path that leads to suicidal behavior is long and complex and there is no “profile” that predicts suicidal behavior with certainty, there are certain risk factors associated with increased suicide risk. In isolation, these factors are not signs of suicidal thinking. However, when present they signal the need to be vigilant for the warning signs of suicide.

  • History of depression, mental illness or substance/alcohol abuse disorders
  • Presence of firearms or rope
  • Isolation or lack of social support
  • Situational crises
  • Family history of suicide or suicide in the community
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Incarceration
Warning Signs:

Warning signs are observable behaviors that may signal the presence of suicidal thinking. They might be considered “cries for help” or “invitations to intervene.” These warning signs signal the need to inquire directly about whether the individual has thoughts of suicide:

  • Suicide threats. It has been estimated that up to 80% of all suicide victims have given some clues regarding their intentions. Both direct (“I want to kill myself”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up”) threats need to be taken seriously.
  • Suicide notes and plans. The presence of a suicide note is a very significant sign of danger. The greater the planning revealed by the youth, the greater the risk of suicidal behavior.
  • Prior suicidal behavior. Prior behavior is a powerful predictor of future behavior. Thus anyone with a history of suicidal behavior should be carefully observed for future suicidal behavior.
  • Making final arrangements. Giving away prized possessions, writing a will, and/or making funeral arrangements may be warning signs of impending suicidal behavior.
  • Preoccupation with death. Excessive talking, drawing, reading, andor writing about death may suggest suicidal thinking.
  • Changes in behavior, appearances, thoughts, and/or feelings. Depression, sudden happiness, a move towards social isolation, giving away possessions, and reduced interest in previously important activities are among the changes considered to be suicide warning signs.
Click below to print these guideline documents, courtesy of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Department of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Services:

For local resources and information in and around Palo Alto Community, please visit the Project Safety Net website.

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