Suicide in teenagers

Death by suicide is one of the most tragic ways for a life to end. It is particularly distressing for friends and relatives when a young person takes their own life.

Suicidal behaviour is complex and may involve numerous factors, although most young people who die by suicide do have a mental health disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety or substance abuse.

Depression in adults is often fairly obvious. Sleep disturbance, poor appetite, low self-esteem, a gloomy outlook on life and tearfulness are typical symptoms. Teenagers may also show some of these clues to depression, but often it is not so obvious. Excessive irritability, boredom, social withdrawal, dropping out of sports and other activities, and worsening school performance are some signs that a teenager may be depressed.

It may be hard to distinguish these warning symptoms from the ‘ups-and-downs’ which are a part of most teenagers' lives. In depression these features are usually present constantly, with few, if any, good periods in between, and cause significant interference in their school, social, work and family functioning.

Which teenagers are at risk of suicide?

Some teenagers are more at risk of depression and suicide than others. They include those with relatives who have similar problems, those living in an unhappy family environment and those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol (which plays a significant part in many young peoples' suicides).

Aggressive, impulsive boys, particularly those who are ‘loners’, are at risk, and so are some very high-achievers who may have perfectionist personalities and be under constant pressure to do even better.

Research also shows that indigenous youth, same sex attracted youth and young people living in rural areas are at higher risk of suicide.

There are many myths about suicide. The popular belief that ‘those that talk about it don't do it’ is dangerously wrong. Such an episode must always be taken seriously. It is also dangerous to dismiss a non-fatal suicide attempt as ‘attention-seeking’. Many people who lose their lives to suicide have attempted suicide previously.

Dealing with teenagers can be very difficult at the best of times. If you are aware of a young person who seems constantly unhappy or bad tempered, don't be afraid to ask them about how they are feeling. Often just knowing that someone cares is enough to let them unburden their problems, and may prevent tragedy.

If you or someone you know is depressed and having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor, seek help from a health support group, such as those featured below, or phone one of the national helplines in the box below.

National Helplines
If you or someone you know is depressed and/or having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor, or phone one of these helplines.
Lifeline (24 hours) 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (under 18 years of age) 1800 55 1800
Just Ask - rural mental health information 1300 13 11 14
Mensline Australia (24 hours) 1300 78 99 78
SANE Helpline - mental illness information, support and referral 1800 18 SANE (7263)
Suicide Call Back Service (24 hours) - free telephone counselling support 1300 659 467

Mental health and depression resources for teenagers

For more general, non-urgent information and resources for teenagers and young people on mental health and depression, see the websites in this table.

Depression/mental health resources for teenagers and young people
headspace Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Headspace has centres around Australia where young people can participate in activities and get support and information.
youth beyondblue Beyondblue's website for young people and their families to help deal with depression.
Reach Out Australia Information, stories, forums and blogs to help understanding of mental health issues and to connect young people with mental health issues.
Itsallright.org SANE Australia's website for young people with relatives and friends with a mental illness. Comprises information, factsheets, podcasts and a helpline.
Embrace the Future Project of the Mental Health Foundation of Australia to educate people under 24 to develop the skills which promote resilience and positive mental health.

 
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