How can you tell if your son or daughter might be developing suicidal tendencies or a self-destructive mind-set? Are there any specific risk factors or warning signs to keep in mind?

Potential Risk Factors

If you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize that just about everything we’ve talked about in the first five parts of this book has something to do with risk. Our purpose has been to build up, brick by brick and stone by stone, a thorough and systematic understanding of the many developmental, psychological, and social factors that can feed into the growth and development of a suicidal mind-set.

We’ve talked about attachment, child discipline, and the importance of good self-care. We’ve considered the effects of worldly values, significant losses, domestic violence, anxiety, depression, addictions, personality disorders, mental illnesses, social media, and a host of other potential problems. Without rehashing that information here, we can summarize its significance as follows: if your child has issues in any of these areas, you need to remain vigilant. And if you see a combination of these factors, it’s time to heighten the alert status.

A short list of specific identifiable risk factors for suicide among young people would include the following: mood disorders, substance abuse, certain personality disorders, low socioeconomic status, childhood abuse, parental separation or divorce, inappropriate access to firearms or prescription drugs, and interpersonal conflicts or losses. Pay special attention to the following predictors of suicidal thoughts and behaviors:

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A family history of suicide
  • The presence of chronic pain, degenerative disease, or some serious psychiatric condition such as bipolar disorder
  • Other mental health issues, such as clinical depression, anxiety, OCD, or OCPD
  • Several of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Suicide among other adolescents in your community
  • A sudden, major loss or humiliation, such as bullying or a dramatic boyfriend-girlfriend breakup

The presence of any of the factors listed above doesn’t necessarily constitute cause for immediate concern. It doesn’t prove your child is likely to commit suicide. It merely indicates that he might be more prone to think about suicide than people who aren’t struggling in these areas. If these factors are part of your child’s background or personality, be aware of the implications and stay on guard. But there’s no need to jump to unwarranted conclusions.

Watch Out for Depression

Of the several mental health issues cited above, depression, again, comes in for special mention. Why? Because statistics indicate that depression is the most common cause of teen suicide. Though depression doesn’t always lead to suicide, it must be taken seriously on its own account. If you suspect your child might be clinically depressed, see our definition of this term in chapter twelve on depression, and seek appropriate help immediately. You may want to contact your primary care physician for advice or a referral. Even if a present threat of suicide doesn’t seem to be part of the picture, you’ll want to take definite steps to deal with the depression.