Suicide is the act of ending one's own life. Suicidal behavior are thoughts or tendencies that put a person at risk for committing suicide.
Suicide, attempted suicide, and thoughts of committing suicide are, as of the early 2000s, growing problems among adolescents in the United States and much of the world. It is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds in the United States and the sixth leading cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds. About 2 percent of adolescent girls and 1 percent of adolescent boys attempt suicide each year in the United States. Another 5 to 10 percent of children and teens each year come up with a plan to commit suicide.
Psychologists have identified the teenage years as one of the most difficult phases of human life. Although they are often seen as a time in which to enjoy life, hang out with friends, and perform other activities that adults would not usually do, the teenage period can be difficult. Many changes in the human mind take place during puberty. Apart from facing the onset of sexual maturity, teenagers must also make key decisions about their future, develop their identities, change schools, and meet new friends. They may have to cope with a wide range of personal and social challenges. Many young people have difficulty dealing with stress these experiences may elicit.
The most common reasons for suicide or suicidal behavior among children and adolescents involve personal conflict or loss, most frequently with parents or romantic attachments. Family discord, physical or sexual abuse, and an upcoming legal or disciplinary crisis are also commonly associated with completed and attempted suicide. Adolescents who complete suicide show relatively high suicidal intent, and many are intoxicated at the time of death. The most serious suicide attempters leave suicide notes, show evidence of planning, and use an irreversible method, such as a gunshot to the head. Most adolescent suicide attempts, though, are of relatively low intent and lethality, and only a small number of these individuals actually want to die. Usually, suicide attempters want to escape psychological pain or unbearable circumstances, gain attention, influence others, or communicate strong feelings, such as anger or love.
Suicidal behavior is rare in children prior to puberty, probably because of their relative inability to plan and
execute a suicide attempt. Psychiatric risk factors, such as depression and substance abuse, become more frequent in adolescence, contributing to the increase in the frequency of suicidal behavior in older children. Some view the transition from primary to middle school as particularly stressful, especially for girls. Also, parental monitoring and supervision decrease with increasing age, so that adolescents may be more likely to experience emotional difficulties without their parents' knowledge.
Repeated suicide attempts are common, but rates vary. Follow-up studies ranging from one to 12 years found a re-attempt rate among adolescents of 5 to 6 percent per year, with the greatest risk within the first three months after the initial attempt. Factors associated with a higher re-attempt rate included chronic and severe psychiatric disorders, such as depression and substance abuse; hostility and aggression; non-compliance with treatment; poor levels of social skills; family discord, neglect, or abuse; and parental psychiatric disorders.