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Preventing Adolescent Suicide

Preventing Adolescent Suicide

Statistics show that 8 out of 10 people who committed suicide gave some warning before taking their lives.


"Suicide." Few words strike as much fear into the hearts of parents. While the incidence is rare, thank God, the numbers are definitely increasing, even in the Jewish community. Parents, therefore, need to familiarize themselves with the risk factors, as well as learn what they can do to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in their home.


The major risk factors for suicide can be summarized by the acronym "sad persons."

Sex. Gender plays a significant role. Teenaged boys are much more likely to commit suicide. Teenaged girls are more likely to make unsuccessful attempts to take their lives.

Age. The vast majority of completed suicides are committed by adults over age 60 or by teenagers. People 20-60 are less likely to commit suicide.

Depression. Anyone suffering from clinical depression is at risk for suicide. Symptoms of clinical depression include loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, sleeping disturbances (too much or too little) and loss of interest in activities which used to be pleasurable for that person. Depression may be caused by one or more of the following: biochemical factors, major recent losses or untreated childhood trauma or abuse. Typically, the risk of suicide is highest during the first three months of recovery from major depression.

Prior history. Anyone with a history of impulsive or violent behavior or of making suicidal gestures or attempts is much more likely to commit suicide than someone who has never done so. A suicidal "gesture" is an act which is not sufficiently self destructive to cause death, such as slitting one's wrists. A suicidal attempt is an act which could result in death if the victim is not found in time, such as an overdose of sleeping pills.

Extended illness. Severe, chronic physical illness can lead to major depression (see: "D" above). In addition, long standing psychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, can cause intolerable suffering and torment which could push someone over the edge.

Rational thinking loss. Part of rational thinking is to consider the consequences of our behavior. Once someone has become irrational, negative consequences are no longer a deterrent.

Support system lacking. When people feel well connected to friends or relatives, they are less likely to feel so desperate, alone and helpless that they will take their own lives. Conversely, when one feels isolated from friends and alienated from family s/he is at greater risk of suicide. One of the highest risk factors for teenagers, for example, is when one of their friends commits or even attempts to commit suicide.

Organized plan. If someone has a clear idea of just how to go about it, s/he is much more likely to commit suicide than someone who is only contemplating it in general terms. The plan may include not only the method but also how to dispose of personal property or prized possessions. One student, for example, gave his teacher all of his personal notebooks the night before he jumped off the roof of the school building to his death.

No spouse. Statistically, singles are at greater risk. That may be one reason for teenagers being over-represented among suicide victims.

Substance abuse. Any history of alcoholism or drug abuse increases the risk of suicide because it indicates that this is an adolescent who deals with problems by trying to escape.


First and foremost, take all threats of suicide seriously. It is a myth that people who talk about it do not do it. Statistics show that 8 out of 10 people who committed suicide gave some warning before taking their lives.

Try not to be judgmental ("Don't talk like that") or moralistic ("The Torah forbids it"). False reassurances ("Everything will be fine") are equally unhelpful. Instead, show concern ("You seem to be going through a difficult time right now"). Try to empathize ("It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless"). And encourage verbalization of feelings ("Tell me what is bothering you").

If your son or daughter has expressed suicidal thoughts, do not leave him or her alone for long periods of time. Offer to be and, if necessary, stay with him or her, or arrange for someone else to do so, until the immediate crisis passes.

Finally, insist on an immediate psychiatric consultation. Make an appointment as soon as possible for your child to be evaluated by an experienced mental health professional who can properly assess the degree of suicidal risk. Volunteer to go with your child to the appointment and be sure to follow any recommendations you receive.

September 3, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, December 29, 2011 10:23 AM

my last attempt

Since I was very young I wished bad things would happen to me so I would be free. I carried many fears with me all the time and I knew that if something bad would happen, I wouldn't have to go to school.. all these irrational fears. By the time I was in 12th Grade, I was on antidepressents. I never knew about self harm before that, but apparently I was doing it from a pretty young age. I know everyone says that you don't really want bad things to happen... but let me tell you it's not true, because when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I felt a certain freedom. Now I have something to tell people when thay ask what I'm doing. The pain wasn't a problem for me because physical pain is easier than emotional pain. Right before I went into surgery I woke up and got this fear, what if I don't wake up. I'm dreaming about not having to live but when it's suddenly so close to me, I get all scared of dying. The only time I really had a plan was when I was in the psych ER because I wasn't feeling safe. I thought I was just going to stay there overnight and they would adjust my meds and then I would go home. I was scared to tell my parents so I called my families rav's wife and told her my predicament and she said I should call her husband. So I called him, and I don't regret that call at all because now I know who he really is. He started screaming at me that I only call him when I need him (isn't that what rabbis are for?) .and he said "no, why should I speak to your parents, you should" So I said ok and hung up. Then I called his wife and told her what he said and she said she'll call him. A minute later he called back and asked me in a really tough voice what he said that made me cry, then he told me he will talk to my parents but then I didn't want him to anymore and of course he didn't listen to me. He also said I can't talk to his wife. At that point I had a clear plan of what i would to in the morn. but they didn't let me go in the morning so I lived to tell the tale

(3) Rochel, September 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Though the focus of the article was on adolescents, I would like to add something from my own experience.

I have a daughter who, at the age of 8, was talking about ways to kill herself (for example, she wanted to know if she would die if she drank soap; she talked about jumping out the window from our fourth floor apartment; she asked which household cleaning products were poisonous if drunk). We are a large and generally happy family, and she is an exceptionally intelligent (and sensitive) girl, so at first we just thought it was a weird passing stage she was going through. Fortunately I have a dear friend who is a psychologist and when I described this to her, she took it very seriously. She told me to find time to sit together and to: 1) tell her firmly that suicide is forbidden by Torah law (she is a spiritually oriented child); 2) describe how painful suicide can be by giving examples of failed attempts that resulted in paralysis or other disability (with the intention of frightening her so she would not attempt such a thing); and 3) talk about the pain of a soul after suicide, as compared to the joy of a soul which has lived and coped with life's challenges. My friend said that at such a young age, even though she is precocious, my daughter has no real concept of the finality of death, imagining it as just going to sleep and not having to wake up. She directed me to make conscious efforts to make the child's life "worth" living (more attention, etc.) and to check with her teachers about any possible problems I might not be aware of. The happy end, is that she is now a happy, healthy, full of life 12 year old. I don't like to think of what might have happened if Hashem had not given me the timely and relevant advice I received from my friend. May no one have to go through such a tragedy, ever.

The article was interesting and well written, and Aish is to be commended for the courage to present issues which involve controversial subjects usually swept under the carpet. Yashar Koach.

(2) Anonymous, September 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Invaluable information

An important article. People must learn to recognize warning signs in their friends and family, and it is equally important for a person feeling a depression to know that there is help available to them. Many people care and are worried about those around them, yet so often just don't know 'the right thing' to do or say. It is great to have articles like this which show people how to be more sensitive to other's troubles; and hopefully show them what steps to take to move together in the right direction.

(1) avrohom, September 4, 2005 12:00 AM

I understand

I read your article, and I cried reading it over and over. I am a person who is NOW in a major depression, and I have tried to end my life, but my family has taught me that there is more to life. Thank you for printing out this article, especially with the holidays approaching.

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