How to help prevent suicide

Suicide: What you need to know to help your children and teenagers

Sept. 8-14 is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Tuesday is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day

By Tracey Maxfield

Every 40 seconds a person dies by suicide.

This means that in the next hour, 90 people will have died by suicide, at the end of today, 2,160 will have died and at the end of this week, 15,120 children, teenagers, young adults, adults and older people with have died by suicide.

In fact, among children and teenagers five to 24 years old, suicide is now the second leading cause of death.

Today, in the U.S., 16 teenagers will end their lives by suicide, and 3,041 students in Grades 9-12 will attempt to end their lives by suicide.

Why is this happening? Why are our children and teenagers dying by suicide?

Sadly, there is no one single reason. Whilst genetic make up, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), bullying, substance addiction and mental illnesses/disorders play major roles, kids today are facing stressors and challenges the likes of which we never experienced when we were growing up.

The combination of all these life stressors can throw their perspective off balance triggering overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, of a loss of control and a pervading sense of doom.

The Center for Disease Control, released a statement in response to the suicide epidemic in the U.S. stating:

A combination of individual, relational, community and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide including a family history of suicide or child abuse, a history of mental disorders (especially depression), or alcohol/substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness, impulsive and aggressive tendencies, isolation, loss, physical illness, local epidemics of suicide and easy access to lethal methods (firearms).


Suicide is the act of ending one’s life. It is usually planned and intentional. Suicide is not a mental disorder/illness, but, more often, the unfortunate outcome of a mental disorder that is often not recognized or is not treated effectively.

There are three components to a suicide plan:

  • Ideation
  • Intent
  • Plan

It is important to note that suicidal thoughts and/or attempts are not a normal and expected response to every-day life stressors.

Most teenagers who attempt, or die by, suicide have communicated their distress or plans to at least one other person.

The presence of suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously, it is a sign that the child/teenager needs help from a trained mental health professional.

These communications are not always direct; therefore, it is very important to know some of the key warning signs of suicide.

Suicide Warning Signs

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) uses the acronym “IS PATH WARM” to identify the warning signs that a person may be suicidal:

I – Ideation about suicide
S – Substance abuse, e.g. alcohol, drugs
P – Purposelessness in life
A – Anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
T – Trapped, feeling there is no way out
H – Hopelessness or helplessness
W – Withdrawn from family, friends and activities
A – Anger or rage
R – Recklessness e.g. engaging in unsafe, risky or harmful behaviours
M - Mood change

Suicide Facts

  • In children/teenagers with a substance use disorder the risk of suicide is 5 to 6 times higher
  • 90% of children/teenagers who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness/disorder
  • In 2017, suicides amongst teenage girls hit a 40-year high
  • Since 2000, suicide in teenagers age 15-19 years old has increased 28%
  • Suicide ideation and self harm is common in teenage girls with Conduct Disorder
  • Suicide risk is 10 times more likely in kids with Asperger’s
  • Death by suicide is seven times higher in kids with Autism (ASD)
  • Children and teenagers with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia are at a significantly higher risk for suicide.
  • After the debut of the TV series 13 Reasons Why, there was a 19% increase in internet searches on “how to commit suicide”
  • Suicide, especially amongst children can be contagious. Five per cent of suicides in kids are influenced by contagion from suicidal peers or cultural depictions of suicide

What is most important to remember, is that when you are trying to end your life by suicide, there is still a part of you that does not want to die. But at that moment, you just cannot continue to live with the never-ending pain and sorrow.

The sense of hopelessness and loneliness is so overwhelming that death by suicide seems to be the only way you can end the pain and heartache.

If you have suicidal thoughts:

  • Remove yourself from your location
  • Call a trusted friend or family member
  • Call a local crisis centre
  • Go to your nearest Emergency Room (ER) or call 911, or local emergency number

If you know someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Call a local crisis centre and/or emergency police services
  • Take the person to your nearest ER department
  • If the person has already self-harmed, call 911 (or local emergency number) immediately

​​Post Care

  • Follow up with a physician or psychiatrist
  • Follow the healthcare plan e.g. therapy, medications
  • Consider counselling and/or participation in a support group
  • Contact the local Mental Health Association, or your own local mental health branch.

Tracey Maxfield is a nurse, speaker, author and mental health/stop bullying advocate and educator. In 2017, she wrote a column for Castanet called Dementia Aware and in 2018, published her first book Escaping the Rabbit Hole: my journey through depression. You can check out her videos and blog at www.traceymaxfield.com. She can be contacted at [email protected] 

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