Thousands of teens commit suicide each year in the United States. In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.
Suicide does not just happen. Studies show that at least 90% of teens who kill themselves have some type of mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or a behavior problem. They may also have problems at school or with friends or family, or a combination of all these things. Some teens may have been victims of sexual or physical abuse. Others may be struggling with issues related to sexual identity. Usually they have had problems for some time.
Most teens do not spend a long time planning to kill themselves. They may have thought about it or tried it in the past but only decide to do it after an event that produces feelings of failure or loss, such as getting in trouble, having an argument, breaking up with a partner, or receiving a bad grade on a test.
Most teens who kill themselves have a mood disorder (bipolar disorder or depression). A mood disorder is an illness of the brain. A mood disorder can come on suddenly or can be present on and off for most of a teen's life. A teen with a mood disorder may be in one mood for weeks or months or may flip rapidly from one feeling to another.
Teens with bipolar disorder, also called manic depression, may change between mania (angry or very happy), depression (sad or crabby), and euthymia (normal mood). Some teens have more mania, some have more depression, and some seem normal much of the time. Mania and depression can happen at the same time. This is called a mixed state.
Teens in a manic or a mixed state may:
- Strongly overreact when things do not go their way
- Become hyper, agitated, or aggressive
- Be overwhelmed with thoughts or feelings
- Sleep less
- Talk a lot more
- Act in impulsive or dangerous ways
- Feel they can do things they really can't
- Spend money they do not have or give things away
- Insist on unrealistic plans for themselves or others
Teens with depression may:
- Feel sad, down, or irritable, or not feel like doing things
- Have a change in sleeping or eating habits
- Feel guilty, worthless, or hopeless
- Have less energy, or have more difficulty paying attention
- Feel lonely, get easily upset, or talk about wanting to be dead
- Lose interest in things they used to enjoy
Mood disorders can be treated. Ask your teen's doctor about treatment resources. Recent declines in teen suicide may be due to an increase in early detection, evaluation, and effective treatment of mood disorders.