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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
October 2016

Preventing Adolescent Suicide

JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(10):1032. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.2561

Each year, more than 2000 adolescents die from suicide; suicide is among the top 3 causes of death for US teens. Risk factors for suicide include mood disorders such as depression, substance use or abuse, or a history of trauma such as sexual abuse. Suicide is a preventable cause of death.

This article will focus on 3 key aspects of suicide prevention: watching for warning signs, providing support and resources, and limiting access to firearms and drugs/medications.

Watching for warning signs: Parents, family members, adults, and friends can all play a role in watching for warning signs for suicide. These signs may include:

  • Changes in behavior such as:

    • Getting in trouble or being aggressive or impulsive.

    • Running away or threatening to run away.

    • Withdrawing from friends or family or having a change in friends.

    • Eating or sleeping less or more.

    • Losing interest in activities.

  • Substance use such as drugs or alcohol.

  • Hurting oneself, such as cutting or severe dieting.

  • Talking or writing of suicide or death.

  • Any suicidal behavior, even if it could not have been lethal, such as taking a small amount of pills.

  • Some teens don’t use the word suicide but talk about “ending it all” or “getting away from everything”; these terms and phrases should be taken seriously as suggestive of suicide.

Providing support and resources is critical; this includes listening to the teen and letting him or her know you are there for support. If you are concerned your teen may be suicidal, you should seek help right away, including calling 911 or going to the emergency department if needed. A third critical step for prevention of suicide is preventing access to things in your house that could increase the risk of suicide. A major risk of death from suicide is access to firearms; studies have shown that teens who have risk factors for suicide are just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without suicide risk factors.

Access to drugs and medications is another key risk factor for suicide, and an opportunity for prevention. This month’s JAMA Pediatrics includes a research study of adolescents that found that misuse of prescription drugs or opioids was a significant risk factor for suicidal behavior.

If you or a family member are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).

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The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.