While there may never be a singular answer to why teens – or anyone else for that matter – commits suicide, there are certainly some common factors. Keep in mind, however, that two teens can face nearly identical circumstances and one will make it through while the other will not. Having said that, here are some common risk factors for teen suicide.
Lack of Parental Involvement and Support
Parental involvement is always a tricky issue, because not all parents are absentee parents and yet there is a difference between being present in a child’s life and being engaged in a child’s life. Just because a parent may not work and may be home all day does not mean they are necessarily actively engaged in their child’s life.
Conversely, a single parent may work long hours and still be actively engaged in their child’s life. The question is not whether the parent feels engaged, but whether the teen feels they are supported. And unfortunately, a teenager’s perception of care and support may not have much to do with the reality of the situation.
While bullying is in and of itself rarely the singular cause of suicide, there is ample evidence suggesting strong correlation, if not causation. It is not clear whether bullying is causing teens to feel suicidal, whether bullies are targeting more vulnerable victims who already suffer from causal factors, or some combination of both. But there is no question that bullying and teen suicidality go hand in hand.
Nonconforming Gender Identity
According to Freedom Counseling, “Issues of sexual identity are hugely relevant to teen suicide. Trans teens in particular are vulnerable to mental illness and suicidality, independent of whether or not their peers and family identify them with the gender identity they express.” Again, however, struggling with LGBT issues is not in and of itself a lone indicator of suicidality. What it all comes back to is whether or not the teen feels loved, accepted and supported by someone or some group of people. They may not feel accepted or supported by their parents or peers, but if they find a supportive LGBT community to be a part of, that can help them safely weather the storms.
Depression or Other Mental Health Issues
As science discovers more about the power of neurotransmitters, it seems that in some cases the real cause of suicide might actually be the teen’s own brain chemistry. This is particularly exacerbated by extreme hormonal changes that take place during the pubescent years.
Ultimately, there are no sure-fire answers as to why individuals commit suicide and particularly not when it comes to teens. Signs of depression and suicide are difficult to see, and intervention does not have a perfect success rate. Still, the onus is on all of us to try and make a difference where we can in reaching out to vulnerable teens who are on the margins of society. Because one is too many.