Suicide and Suicide Prevention: Teen Suicide
By Vincent Iannelli, M.D., , Guide
May 21, 2011

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in older children and teens. In fact, in 2005, just over 1,800 teenagers died from suicide, making it the third leading cause of death for teens -- just after unintentional injuries and homicide. Surprisingly, cancer and heart disease came in at a more distant number four and five, with about 1,000 and 500 deaths each.

Even for preteens, children aged 9 to 12 years old, suicide is a leading cause of death, ranking as the sixth leading cause of death in 2005.

Suicide Statistics
Unfortunately, statistics show that suicide rates in teenagers are on the rise.

After a trend of decreasing suicide rates from 1996 to 2003, teen suicide rates increased 18% in 2004 and 17% in 2005.


Experts aren't sure yet, but theories include:

  • increase access to guns
  • increase use of alcohol
  • the influence of Internet social networks, such as MySpace
  • increased rates of suicide among older teens who are serving in, or returning from Iraq

Another leading theory is that the rise in teen suicides may be because fewer teens are being treated with antidepressants when they have depression. This follows the 2003 FDA warning about antidepressants and suicide. However, since untreated depression is itself a risk factor for suicide, fewer teens taking antidepressants could have the unintended effect of leading to more suicides.

Worldwide, about 90,000 teens commit suicide each year, with about four million suicide attempts. That means that one teenager dies from suicide about every five minutes.

Suicide Risk Factors
In addition to untreated depression, other suicide risk factors include:

  • mood disorders
  • chronic anxiety
  • previous suicide attempts
  • genetics -- family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions
  • conduct disorder
  • child abuse
  • sexual assault
  • stressful events, including relationship breakups, family problems, etc.
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • eating disorders
  • being bullied
  • dropping out of school
  • taking certain medications, including antidepressants, Strattera (atomoxetine), a medication for ADHD; and Accutane (isotretinoin), which is used to treat teens with severe nodulocystic acne; and antiseizure drugs, such as Tegretol (carbamazepine), Depakoke (valproate), and Lamictal (lamotrigine)

Suicide is also more common in bisexual and homosexual teens.

Suicide Prevention
In addition to all of the teens who successfully commit suicide, there are many more who attempt suicide. Experts estimate that 20 to 25% of teens admit to thinking about suicide at some time in their lives and for every suicide, there are between 5 to 45 suicide attempts.

That makes it even more important for parents, pediatricians, and everyone else that is regularly around teenagers to understand how to try and prevent suicides, such as:

  • recognizing the risk factors and warning signs for suicide
  • making sure that teens know they can ask for help if they ever think about hurting themselves, including calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255), calling their doctor, calling 911, or going to a local crisis center or the emergency room
  • calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need advise on talking to your teen who you think may have suicide warning signs
  • seeking professional help, such as your pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, a psychiatric hospital, or emergency room if you think your child is going to hurt himself
  • making sure that guns and medications aren't easily available in your home if your teen might be suicidal
  • getting teens professional help if they have depression and/or anxiety, which are often thought to be the biggest risk factors for suicide

  • Suicide Trends Among Youths Aged 10 to 19 Years in the United States, 1996-2005 Jeffrey A. Bridge; Joel B. Greenhouse; Arielle H. Weldon; John V. Campo; Kelly J. Kelleher JAMA. 2008;300(9):1025-1026.
  • National Center for Health Statistics. 10 Leading Causes of Death, United States. 2005, All Races, Both Sexes.
  • Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.
  • Suicide in children and adolescents. Greydanus DE - Prim Care - 01-JUN-2007; 34(2): 259-73.
  • American Association of Suicidology. Suicide Warning Signs Fact Sheet.