An Education in Suicide Prevention

Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-241. Education is the key to prevention as we work together to address this tragic trend. Understanding the warning signs is the first step to helping a child in need.

Suicide does not typically have a sudden onset. There are a number of stressors that can contribute to a youth’s anxiety and unhappiness, increasing the possibility of a suicide attempt. Warning signs could include:

  • Sudden, abrupt changes in personality
  • Expressions of hopelessness and despair
  • Declining grades and school performance
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Increased irritability and aggressiveness
  • Withdrawn behavior from family, friends and relationships
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

Suicide Threats: Taking Action To Get Help

Almost everyone who attempts or completes suicide has given warning signs through their words or behaviors. Although teens are naturally dramatic, never take a suicidal comment lightly. Statements like “I’d be better off dead” or “I’ll just kill myself” are often made as a cry for help. Listen with nonjudgmental support and seek behavioral help and/or crisis services immediately.

As much as we want to give children their space and privacy, when the warning signs appear, it’s best to knock on the door, sit with them and say, “You seem to be having a difficult time. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help. Your safety is really important to me.”

Once you open the door to conversation and trust, it’s sometimes helpful to have a code word for your child to use when they are having thoughts of suicide or feeling unsafe. A code word can reduce the intensity of the situation while alerting the parent to remain present.

It is also important to ensure that your child is in a safe environment. That safe environment can mean having someone with them when they express suicidal emotions, locking up medications in the home, and removing weapons from the home. Safety can also come in the form of a trusted adult - a teacher, aunt, grandparent, or crisis service. Dangerous environments to be aware of include negative social groups or pro-suicide chat forums. Be aware, alert and proactive about monitoring your child’s world.

When To Get Help

When you and your child know that help is needed, know that you and your child are never alone. UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics has behavioral health specialists who will work with your family to formulate a plan for the best treatment options for your child. However, it is important to note that they are not a crisis service. It is important to utilize the 24/7 approved crisis hotlines to seek advice and support at any time.

If you are worried about your child/teen or another child, take it seriously and seek help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) or text CONNECT to 741741. Your call will be routed to the local crisis center near you. If you are concerned about immediate danger or threat, take your child to the nearest emergency room.

1 “Suicide Prevention | Fast Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021,