Teenage suicide: Warning signs and ways to help vulnerable teens

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by Hayley Kadrou |
Published on

Dealing with teens with mental health issues is never an easy task, but with this age demographic being particularly vulnerable to suicidal feelings and urges, it’s crucial that those closest to them are able to recognise warning signs of when their life is potentially at risk.

Whether you suspect your child may have suicidal feelings or not, read ahead to help you spot the alarm bells that could help keep your friends and family from being affected by the tragedy of a young person taking thier own life.

Teenage Suicide: The saddening statistics

With taking one's own life being the main cause of death for both males and females under the age of 35 in the UK, it’s vital we work together to try and eliminate these tragic deaths by offering help, support and more to vulnerable teens.

According to the latest stats recorded by ONS, 1,556 young people under 35 took their own lives in the year 2014.

And according to charity PAPYRUS Prevention of young suicide UK, this figure is sadly not a true reflection of just how many lives are affected by teen suicide.

They say:

“PAPYRUS believes these figures could be only the tip of the iceberg. Recording of suicides varies considerably from Coroner to Coroner. Some are recorded as 'accidental death' to protect the feelings of the family, sometimes if there is no note.”

In the Samaritans suicide report for 2015, they state:

“It is commonly acknowledged by professionals in the field of suicide research that official statistics underestimate the ‘true’ number (and, therefore, rate) of suicide."

And what PAPYRUS stress is that it’s not one particular demographic that is most at risk; stress, depression and suicidal urges can affect anyone from all walks of life, and can seem totally out of the blue or out of character to loved ones.

How to recognise the signs of a suicidal teen:

Young people become suicidal for a wide variety of reasons, which does, of course, make it hard for parents to spot direct warning signs.


“There may be things happening to them, which are causing such enormous distress that they cannot think of any other route to eliminate their pain. But there is never only one reason why a young person takes their own life.”

As well as ongoing mental health issues - such as stress, anxiety or depression- young people can be driven to feeling suicidal due to external circumstances in their lives, as they can't so readily take themselves out of the present to look ahead when they deal with stressful and troubling times.

In other words, young people can sometimes also turn to suicide when they feel like they have no way out.

If an upsetting, frustating, confusing or stressful situation (heartbreak, bullying, parents seperating, losing a loved one, exams) seems to be hitting your teen particularly hard - even if they have had no previous issues with mental health issues - it's important to keep an eye of them in aim to assess whether their levels of sadness, stress and fear border into unsafe territory.

Again, PAPYRUS stress: “Absolutely any young person can be at risk, there is no ‘type.'”

Watch out for signs of depression in your teen, such as:

    Admittedly, it's hard for parents to seperate the usual change in interests, character and mood experienced by developing and hormonal teens, but trust your parental intuition when you believe your child's behavior is totally out of character.

    How should parents approach teenagers they think may be suicidal?

    Rosemary over at PAPYRUS says: “Suicide is not the inevitable result of feeling suicidal and early intervention can save lives.

    “But young people who are feeling like this can become isolated because those around them may be worried about asking for fear of making the young person worse.”

    She stresses: “Good honest and open communication however, between everyone concerned is vital to the process of getting the young person through this difficult time.”

    When talking to your troubled teen, it is crucial to let them know you take what they're feeling and going through seriously. Don’t put blame on them, or make them feel they’ve done something wrong or belittle their very real feelings.

    In moments when your vulnerable teen confines in you, making them feel as though their sucidal thoughts and feeling equate to weakness or failure will not help.

    You need to let them know that you understand what has left them to feel this way – whether it’s mental health issues, external circumstances or anything elese – and that there is a way to work through and beyond suicidal thoughts together.

    “This is a taboo that is costing young lives," says Heather Dickinson, Suicide Prevention Helpline Adviser at PAPYRUS.

    “Talking about suicide may not feel easy but young suicide is everyone's business. Talking about it certainly does not make it more likely to happen - but it can save lives.”

    Picking the time and place is also important. Think about where you talk to your teen about this – avoid public, busy places and speaking in front of others, where you won’t be disturbed.

    Pick a time where you both feel calm and trusting of each other – right after an argument may not get the most honest answers.

    Taking them for a drive could work perfectly, as you are in the privacy of your car, but at the same time they can’t escape to their room to avoid the awkward conversation, and unlike a sit down meal, you’re not forced to make eye contact which may make it easier for them to open up.

    Assure them there is help and support out there, how you plan to help them, where they can find support on their own, and encourage them to seek help.

    Again, do not belittle their problems and feelings – something that may seem like an irrelevant teen issue to you may be their whole world.

    "If you are worried that a young person you know may be feeling suicidal, the PAPYRUS helpline team will talk to you about how to approach the conversation, and offer you some advice and support," says Heather.

    Reach HOPELine UK on:

      Who else should parents speak to they you suspect your teen is suicidal?

      While no one wants to breach their child's privacy, confining in those closest to them may help they work towards overcoming suicidal thoughts - and keep an eye on thier low moments.

      Teachers, for example, may benefit from knowing that a student acting up is going through a period of personal instability.

      You must also speak to their GP - they can assess the situation further and provide appropriate help and support.

      Where should you direct your suicidal teen for help?

      PAPYRUS - Prevention of young suicide


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