13 Signs Your Child Might Be Suicidal

Adolescent suicide is a public health issue. Learn the signs of suicide in teens, tweens, and young adults—and how you can help.

Teenage boy lies on bed looking at ceiling and throwing a ball.

Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

Most don’t want to talk about it. No parent wants to think about it, but youth suicide is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.8% of high school students reported having seriously considered suicide in 2019, with nearly 9% making an attempt. This percentage was highest among females (11.0%), black teens (11.8%), and LGBTQ teens (23.4%) It is the second leading cause of death for those aged 14 to 18, and every 2 hours and 11 minutes, a person under the age of 25 dies by suicide, completing an attempt.

These statistics are sobering, to be sure. Thousands of tweens, teens, and adolescents feel (or have felt) so downtrodden and hopeless they believe there is no way up. There is no way out.  But while the issue can seem insumountable—while it often feels like there is nothing we can do—suicide prevention is possible.

Restricting one's access to firearms and lethal means is important, one study explains. Responsible media coverage also plays a role, i.e. the way we talk about suicide can be helpful or harmful, a phenomenon known as the contagion effect. And an important way to prevent suicide is to know the warning signs of suicide.

“Before suicidal behavior can be prevented, those at risk need to be identified,” the aforementioned study states. “Since not all potential suicide attempters are in close contact with a mental health professional, those around them (e.g. friends, family, school staff, military commanders and primary care givers) should be equipped with tools to properly identify risk and make a timely referral.”

But what are the signs of suicide in teens, tweens, and young adults? While asking is the best way to find out if someone is suicidal, there are also some things every parent, teacher, and caregiver should be on the lookout for.

Warning Signs of Suicide in Kids, Tweens, and Teens

  • Talking about wanting to die and/or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty or hopeless and/or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Being preoccupied with death: in conversation, writing, drawing, or music
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends
  • Reckless behavior, particularly in activities which could lead to death, like drinking, drugging, and/or driving extremely fast
  • Dropping grades
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Increased substance use/abuse
  • Extreme mood swings

According to the Child Mind Institute, there are some other risk factors to consider, like a family history of suicide, bullying, poverty, intergenerational trauma, and/or a recent death or loss. Living with a mental health disorder—or struggling with substance use and abuse—can also be a factor.

"[Many] factors [may] make a young person more or less likely to consider or attempt suicide," the Institute explains. There is no profile or look, i.e. suicide can affect anyone, of any age, at any time.

If your child—or any child—is exhibiting any of the signs above, you should talk to them about suicide. "Asking your child directly about suicide will not increase their risk, or plant the idea," the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains. "It will create an opportunity to offer support, and let them know you care enough to have the conversation."

Alicia Raimundo, a mental health advocate and business analyst at the Foundry, an online health and wellness resource for teens and young adults aged 12 to 24, previously told Parents you should ask your child about suicide, pointedly and directly.

“Answer questions they may have without shame, judgment, or fear… validate their feelings by saying things like ‘That must be hard’ or ‘It sounds like you're dealing with a lot.’ Suggest people or places they can turn to if they are having suicidal thoughts.” And, if you are worried they may make an attempt, get them help immediately. Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org, or text "START" to 741-741 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.

Was this page helpful?
Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Can We Really Prevent Suicide? Curr Psychiatry. 2012.

Related Articles