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Youth and Suicide Fact Sheet

Young people face significant internal and external stressors, including social, physiological, and neurological change. Being an adolescent can involve many challenges. When facing them, some may feel trapped and need support to help them see hope for the future. Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts are key warning signs. If young people show these signs, it is crucial to offer support and connect them to help as soon as possible (Bennett et al., 2015).

Why are youth at risk?
Certain factors can place some people at a higher risk for suicide than others, and when multiple risk factors outweigh the factors that build resiliency, there is an increased likelihood that a person may think about suicide (Sharam et al., 2021).

A few factors put youth at risk of suicide:

  • Internal stressors such as overwhelming emotional pain, feelings of hopelessness, mental illness, trauma, impulsivity, or struggles with gender identification or sexual orientation
  • External stressors such as bullying, exposure to suicide, homelessness, or a recent stressful event (especially actual or perceived losses)
  • A tendency for “tunnel vision” that prevents them from being able to see past the difficulties of today and into the future
  • A vulnerability to “suicide contagion” (or imitation) that may put them at risk in reaction to the suicide of a loved one, celebrity, or a fictional character they strongly identify with (Zenere, 2009)

Warning signs
Any significant change in behaviour or mood is a warning sign that someone may be thinking about suicide. In the following examples among young people, some characteristic behaviours may be symptoms of an emerging mental health concern, including thoughts of suicide:

  • Significant mood changes:
    • being really sad when usually they’re happy, or being really happy when they’re usually down or melancholic
    • getting angry, annoyed, or easily frustrated ⋅
  • Risk taking, spontaneous behaviour that is out of the ordinary:
    • drinking more alcohol or taking more drugs than usual
    • wanting to run away from home ⋅
  • Conversation or statements that indicate hopelessness, psychological pain, feelings of worthlessness, or being a burden:
    • “What’s the point of even trying?”
    • “Nobody cares about me.” ⋅
  • Talking about or making plans for suicide ⋅
  • Marked changes in behaviour or worrisome behaviour:
    • withdrawal (from activities they normally enjoy, social media)
    • changes in sleep patterns
    • anger or hostility
    • recent increases in agitation or irritability (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education et al., 2015) ⋅
  • Reaching a point where self-harm (non-suicidal self-injury) is no longer an effective coping mechanism (Whitlock & Knox, 2007)

What can reduce risk?
Suicide risk in youth can be reduced in four basic ways: reducing psychological pain, increasing hope, enhancing connection, and reducing the capability for suicide (Klonksy, personal communication, 2020).

  • Other factors that may reduce risk: ⋅
  • A strong family connection ⋅
  • A positive school environment ⋅
  • Strong, supportive relationships (with friends, trusted adults) ⋅
  • Good self-esteem ⋅
  • Hope for the future ⋅
  • Recognition that emotions are not static, that one’s emotional state constantly changes ⋅
  • Involvement in positive activities outside regular school hours (e.g., volunteering, participating in cultural activities, sports) (Armstrong & Manion, 2015)

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