How to Help a Suicidal Teen

The teen years can be an incredibly difficult time in a person’s life. School is stressful, feeling like you need to “fit in” can be unbearable, and being bullied is terrifying. There are so many things that add stress to children and teens’ lives. These days, it seems there’s even more to worry about with social media and all of the time that teens are spending online commenting, gossiping, and even cyberbullying.

Teens go through a lot of changes, but there may be some signs that your teen is experiencing more than just the “normal” growing pains everyone faces. Self-harm, though not an indication of suicidal tendencies itself, can be symptomatic of other major mental health issues. And if left untreated, it can sometimes lead to suicidal behavior. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 24, so recognizing these signs is crucial. 

Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicidal Thoughts

There are many signs to look out for when looking for addiction, co-morbid mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, and suicidal thoughts in your teen. Some of these signs include:
Drop in grades at school
Expressing hopelessness and sadness
No energy or motivation
Unusual anger or agitation (unusual for your child)
Problems with forgetfulness and trouble with concentration
Changes in their sleeping and/or eating patterns
Alcohol and/or drug use, abuse, or addiction
Talking about death and talking about suicide
Withdrawal from their friends and their usual activities
You may notice risk-taking behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, or driving recklessly

You may notice only one of these signs, several, many, or perhaps none of them with your child. When you do notice a sign, particularly when you are noticing several troublesome behaviors in a short period of time, it is important to take action. Talk with your child and realize that it is time to figure out what professional support you should seek. 

Ways to Help
Mental illness, addiction, and suicidal thoughts may all overlap. A teen may also have more than one mental illness or addiction, so figuring out where and how to get them help for seemingly different problems can be confusing. A great place to start is by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at

1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can point you towards the right resource. 

There are many other resources that will help you with any number of issues. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a great source for information about suicide. 

Another excellent resource is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). At that website you can find all kinds of information about substance abuse and different mental illnesses. Please also remember, if you, your teen, or someone you know is in imminent danger, call 911 immediately. 

Now What?
It is important to keep supporting your teen throughout this entire process. There is no easy fix for any of these potential problems; everything will take time. Remember, it is crucial that you take care of yourself. You are no good to your child if you don’t first take care of you. Taking care of yourself, and supporting and loving your teen, will give both of you the best chance of having a happy, healthy future. 

Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.orgwith a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.

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