Teen Depression and Suicide
Are There Other Risk Factors?Depression researchers and doctors do not know the exact cause or causes of suicide in most teenagers; but they do know a number of risk factors that increase a person's chances of committing suicide. Although these risk factors do place teenagers (or adults for that matter) at a higher risk of suicide, very few people with these suicide risk factors will actually commit suicide.
There is good evidence that over 90 percent of teenagers who commit suicide have a mental disorder before their death. The disorders that most often increase the risk of suicide are mood disorders (major depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia), with or without alcoholism or other substance abuse problem; and/or certain forms of anxiety disorder.
Besides mood disorders like teenage depression, suicide risk factors for teens can also include:
- Stressful life events, such as getting into trouble at school or with a law enforcement agency; a ruptured relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend; or a fight among friends
- Low levels of communication between parents and children
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- A history of alcohol and substance abuse
- Physical illness
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
- Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
- A family history of suicide
- A family history of child maltreatment
- Easy access to lethal methods
- An unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or suicidal thoughts
- Cultural and religious beliefs -- for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Isolation, or a feeling of being cut off from other people.
The risk of suicide in teens may also increase from exposure to real or fictional accounts of suicide, including media coverage of suicide -- such as intensive reporting of the suicide of a celebrity, or the fictional representation of a suicide in a popular movie or TV show. The risk is especially high in the young, and it lasts for several weeks.
Finally, depression studies of completed suicides suggest similar risk factors for boys and girls, but with marked differences in their relative importance. Among girls, the most significant risk factor for suicide is the presence of major depression -- which, in some studies, increases the risk of suicide 12-fold. The next-most-important risk factor is a previous suicide attempt, which increases the risk approximately threefold.
Among boys, a previous suicide attempt is the most potent predictor, increasing the rate over 30-fold. It is followed by depression, which increases the risk of suicide by about 12-fold. This is followed disruptive behavior (increasing the rate by twofold) and substance abuse (increasing the rate by just under twofold).