Warning Signs for Adolescent Suicide
When adolescents become suicidal, they often have a period of poorer school performance and truancy, although these also are signs of general emotional distress, which is correlated with suicide. Other warning signs include lack of interest in their own personal welfare, preoccupation with death and violent themes, difficulty concentrating, and altered eating and sleeping habits. Just as with adults, a sudden improvement after a long period of depression might signal an imminent suicide. In these cases, they are responding to the calm that they feel when they have made a decision to end their suffering and take their own lives.
Suicidal adolescents exhibit some warning signs that are specific to their age group. As a whole, they are more likely than suicidal adults to show dramatic changes in their behaviors (e.g., stopping a favorite activity, becoming impulsive or sexually promiscuous), They are also more likely to self-mutilate, including actions such as carving their initials into their forearms with pocket knives (Stillion & McDowell, 1996). Many suicidal people attempt to "put their affairs in order" before they die, and suicidal adolescents are no exception. They may organize their papers or journals or clean up their rooms. Suicidal adolescents also are more likely than suicidal people in other age groups to give away prized possessions before their death.
Suicidal adolescents sometimes engage in verbal cues that refer to their decision. They might say things such as "They won't have me to kick around anymore," "She'll be sorry," or "I'll show them how serious I am." Some adolescents might make direct threats, such as "I'm going to kill myself' or "I want to die," while others might use more abstract or individualized language. These messages—direct or indirect—may be cries for help and uttered with the hope that someone will intervene.
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