On the phone with his teenage brother, a young person in my young people’s church organization noticed his brother, the popular, fun-loving, star high school football player, sounded more mature and serious in his conversation. The usual jostling greeting of “What do you want?” was replaced with a simple, “hello.” Three days later the younger brother committed suicide by hanging himself immediately after church, stunning his older brother, the entire family, and a host of friends. “It still kinda freaks me out and saddens me because I don’t see the reason behind the suicide. I saw no warning signs, “ says the older brother. The younger brother was 16 years old.

Youth suicide is a serious problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens . Surprisingly, it is also the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year olds, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassed only by accidents and homicide . While the reasons behind a teen’s suicide or attempted suicide can be complex, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress.

The key to prevention is to know these warning signs and what to do to help:
• Aggressive behavior
• Changes in sleeping habits
• Decline in school work
• Drug or alcohol abuse
• Giving away prized possessions
• Legal question about death
• Loss of interest in regular activities
• Loss of energy
• Mood swings and personality changes
• Neglecting personal appearance
• Preoccupation with death
• Previous suicide attempts
• Psychosomatic complaints
• Self-destructive behavior
• Sudden changes in eating habits
• Suddenly happy after long depression
• Talking about death and suicide
• Talking about life after death
• Unnecessary and dangerous risks
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly

Suicidal young people don’t really want to die - they just want their pain to end. If a friend mentions suicide, take it seriously. Do not remain silent. Remember, suicide is preventable; stay calm and act quickly:

• Ask your friend if he or she is thinking about suicide.
• Focus on your concern for your friend's well-being. Do not be accusatory!
• Listen. Listen. Listen.
• Reassure your friend that there is help; tell her/him that this feeling won't last forever. Do not be judgmental!
• Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone.
• Remove means for self-harm.
• Get help. Do not agree to keep the suicidal thoughts a secret. Instead, tell an adult, such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist.

I encourage all of us to be concerned about the welfare of our youth and this major problem that threatens them. By familiarizing ourselves and our young people with the suicide warning signs, we may be able to save a life and prevent a suicide.

Parents, help prevent suicide tendencies with "TLC":

• (T) Talking. Have frequent conversations with your youth – two-way conversations.

• (L) Listening with Love. Young people sense when they are simply being tolerated or when there is no active listening.

• (C) Caring enough to make sure lethal weapons and prescription pills are not readily available for the youth’s success in committing suicide; Caring enough to seek counseling for the young person who already shows suicide tendencies.

“It’s okay to be open about who you are, how you feel, depression and anything else going on in your life,” says the older brother whose young brother committed suicide, you can always talk to somebody who will listen. The biggest thing is not to be afraid to admit there may be a problem.”

The pain and grief may be enormous for the family and friends who lose a loved one through suicide. It is normal to feel guilty and to question how this could have happened, but it’s also important to realize that you might never get the answers you seek. The young man in my young people organization laments, “…he left no note, no email, no text message…” You may have your days of reflection, especially birthdays and holidays. The healing that takes place over time comes from reaching a point of forgiveness – for both you and your loved one who left you through suicide.

Suicide Prevention Organizations

National Hopeline Network

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education


Suicide Prevention Action Network USA, Inc.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Author's Bio: 

Ida Tyree Hyche, J.D., is historian, researcher, writer, and advocate for professional development of young people through knowledge sharing. She conducts leadership development and professional seminars on social issues affecting youth and young adults through her non-profit organization. Ida resides in Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama.