15% of Adolescents and Young Adults Have Suicidal Thoughts. Here’s Help

May 15, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

For young individuals, suicide is the second most common cause of death. That outweighs all natural causes put together. Every hour and a half, a teen or young adult takes their own life. And for every death, there are 15–25 times more attempts than fatalities.

This loss of life is preventable, and we can do something about this, says Christa D. Labouliere, Ph.D. in her report on the topic. Through the report, she insists that suicidal crises pass, and treatment is available that can reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviour. So how do you know if someone is at risk? What should you do if you think someone may be having suicidal thoughts? Here is some information and resources to help.

Who may be at risk for suicide?

15% of adolescents and young adults had suicidal thoughts in the previous year. You could know one of them because there are so many of them. They might be a buddy or classmate, a member of your sports team, dance studio, or theatre troupe, a frequent visitor to your neighbourhood church or synagogue, or someone you know via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or online multiplayer games. Anyone can assist in spotting a vulnerable person. A concerned friend or family member is frequently the first to notice if something is wrong.

How do you know if someone is at risk for suicide?

Determining whether a person is at suicide risk can be challenging. Learning the warning signs, though, can be the first step. These queries were developed by a panel of national and international specialists. Christa puts together a list of questions to know who would be at risk of suicide.

Has your friend or family member said or shown any of the following:

Talking about wanting to die, be dead, or about suicide?

Sometimes this can be obvious, like saying “Everyone would be better off if I were dead” or “I should just kill myself.” Other times, people may not say it directly. Instead, they may show it through their behaviour:

  • Learning about ways to kill themself on the internet.
  • Getting things needed to kill themself—for example, buying medicine, finding a gun or knife, or looking for dangerous places (i.e., rooftops, train tracks, etc.) that are nearby and not restricted.
  • Giving away important belongings, like a prized guitar, phone, or computer.
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends or writing a suicide note.

Cutting or burning themselves?

  • Self-injury is when someone intentionally causes harm to themself. As an illustration, slashing, scratching, or burning themselves or injuring body parts. This does not imply that they are attempting suicide. It does, however, imply that they are unaware of more effective coping mechanisms for difficult feelings or circumstances. This makes them more likely to commit suicide.
  • Prior suicide attempts also increase their risk.

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Feeling like things may never get better?

Sometimes people say it directly, like “Nothing will ever go right for me” or “Things never get better.” Other times, people show it through their behaviour:

  • Not caring about the future. Examples: Not caring about prom, starting school or college, or getting a driver’s license or job.
  • Not caring about things, they used to care deeply about. Examples: If an athlete didn’t care about an important game or an honours student didn’t care about failing a test.

Seeming like they are in terrible emotional pain? Or like something is wrong deep inside but they can’t make it go away?

  • Suicide often comes with other problems. Some people thinking of suicide may experience:
  • Depression or extreme sadness.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Numbness or feeling like nothing matters.
  • Strong mood swings (happy-to-sad or happy-to-angry).
  • Feeling really annoyed or irritable.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, panicky, or worried.
  • Self-injury, such as cutting, scratching, or burning themselves on purpose.
  • Disordered eating, such as eating too much or too little, making themselves throw up, or exercising too much.
  • Impulsive or reckless behaviour, like doing things without thinking or not caring if they might get hurt.
  • Drinking, smoking, or using drugs too often.

Struggling to deal with a big loss or disappointment in their life?

Everyone gets upset when they experience a big loss or disappointment. This may include losing a significant other, parents divorcing, frequently quarreling with family or friends, being kicked off a sports team, failing a class, or getting into trouble. It’s normal to feel angry for a while. However, the following factors could put someone at risk:

  • Upset for much longer than most people would be.
  • Much more upset than most people would be.
  • So upset that they cannot do things they need to do, like go to school or work.
  • So upset that nothing makes them feel better.

Or is your gut telling you to be worried about them because something has changed?

  • Have they withdrawn from everyone and everything?
  • Do they seem more worried or on edge?
  • Do they seem unusually angry?
  • Do they seem overly fidgety, restless, or uncomfortable?
  • Are they sleeping or eating a lot more or less than usual?
  • Maybe they just don’t seem like themselves to you?

If you notice these warning signs in a friend or family member, you can help!

What can you do if you think someone is at risk for suicide?

Christa compiles a list of experts’ recommendations to approach and assist someone at risk:

  1. Inquire about their well-being and whether they have any thoughts of harming or killing themselves. “Are you having thoughts of hurting or killing yourself?” is a direct question that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask. Bringing up the subject of suicide won’t “put the idea in their head.” In reality, many people who are contemplating suicide find relief in talking about their concerns.
  2. Listen to them like a true friend, and pay attention to them. Someone who is contemplating suicide needs your help. So, refrain from calling them irrational, theatrical, or overreacting. Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings while being a good listener; don’t cut them off or try to convince them that things are not as awful as they think.
  3. Inform them that you are concerned about them. “It seems like you’re really sad lately and that worries me.” Or “What you said about wanting to hurt yourself really concerns me.”
  4. Let them know they have been heard. Don’t be afraid to repeat back to them that you have heard to make sure you understand. “It sounds like you have been really sad and angry over arguments at home and with your girlfriend.” Don’t pass judgment on anything they say, simply let them know that you have been paying attention and recognize their frustration.
  5. Tell them they are not alone. Having mental health concerns can be very lonely. People may feel as though they are different or that no one can understand them. Inform them that they are not alone. This feeling of overload, depression, fear, and anger has been experienced by others before. More importantly, let them know that you and others are thinking of them and are ready to help.
  6. Talk to an adult you trust about your concerns and direct the adult to this page. Don’t ever keep suicidal thoughts or plans a secret! Don’t worry that talking to an adult would violate their trust or cause them to “tattle” on you. At least they will still be alive even if they temporarily lose their temper. Adolescents and young adults who are suicidal are typically glad when someone finally knows. Just keep in mind that you might just save their life. And a dependable adult, such as a parent, sibling, teacher, coach, or pastor, will guide you in making the right decisions.

Suicidal thoughts typically indicate that a person has no hope. They might think no one can assist them. They may have run out of other ways to get away from uncomfortable or unbearable sensations or circumstances. However, they will eventually feel well again, and a responsible adult will get them the support they require.

If you believe someone is going to hurt themself right now or has already hurt themselves, call a helpline number immediately.

Thank you for caring enough to make a difference!

Christa D. Labouliere, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Project Administrator of the Suicide Prevention – Training, Implementation, and Evaluation (SP-TIE) program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University. She is responsible for the design, implementation, and evaluation of state-wide suicide prevention efforts, including training clinicians in empirically supported, suicide-specific interventions. Her research has resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications and book chapters on the topics of mood and anxiety disorders and self-destructive behaviour.



Help is here:

Name of the Organisation: Aasra

AASRA volunteers conduct workshops on different levels with high-risk target groups e.g., schools, college students, highly stressed employees of call centres, financial institutions, multinationals, etc. AASRA volunteers have Outreach programs to reach out to the multitudes who may choose to end their lives because of chronic suffering or terminal illness.

Contact: email:  aasrahelpline@yahoo.com

 Telephone: 91-9820466726

Name of the Organisation: Saath

Saath is a voluntary organization, which was started in Ahmedabad on 27th November 1998. It is a non-religious, non-political organization that values human life and feelings.

Contact: email:  saath12@yahoo.com

 Telephone: 91-79 26305544, 26300222

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