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Youth, Adolescent, and Young Adult Suicide Prevention

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, 988 provides 24/7 connection to confidential support. There is hope. You are not alone. Just call or text 988 or chat, 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help.

What Is Youth Suicide?

Suicide occurs when a person decides to end their life and successfully acts on it. It is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. It is also one of the top three leading causes of adolescent and young adult (ages 10-24) deaths in the U.S. On average, more than 130 young people per week die from suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:

  • About 1 in 3 teenage students had persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the past year.
  • 14% of these students made a suicide plan in the past year.

The teenage years are stressful times filled with major natural changes. These changes are seen in physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional characteristics. For some adolescents and young adults, stress, confusion, fear, doubt, and pressure to succeed may become too overwhelming. These feelings may also affect life skills like problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building. In combination with these natural changes and feelings, certain events may lead the adolescent or young adult to feel like suicide is the only solution. These events are:

  • Peer rejection
  • School and/or community violence
  • Abuse and/or family conflict
  • Other traumatic events

Who's At Risk?

You can empower yourself and others by knowing the facts about suicide, who is at risk, and recognizing the warning signs. 

Risk Factors

Risk factors can vary by age group, culture, sex, and other characteristics. Suicide prevention efforts strive to reduce suicide risk factors and strengthen the circumstances that help protect adolescents and young adults from suicide. Some risk factor examples are:

  • Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Substance use.
  • Access to a means to kill oneself (e.g., guns or medications).
  • Feelings of social isolation and loss, peer rejection.
  • Impulsiveness, difficult temperament, withdrawal, poor concentration.
  • Stressful like circumstances like abuse, bullying, family conflict, and poverty.
  • Community and/or school violence.
  • Family history of suicide.

Some behaviors may indicate that a person is at immediate risk for suicide.

If the situation is potentially life-threatening, get immediate emergency assistance by calling 911, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • The following behaviors should prompt a call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a mental health professional immediately:
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

Other behaviors may also indicate a serious risk, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, and/or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a mental health professional. It is important that you stay with the person while they wait for assistance. 

Warning signs specific for youth, adolescents, and young adults

It is important to note that risk factors are not warning signs. There are specific suicide warning signs for youth. These are:

  • Marked fall in school performance.
  • Poor grades in school despite trying very hard.
  • Severe worry or anxiety, as shown by regular refusal to go to school, go to sleep, or take part in activities that are normal for the child’s age.
  • Frequent physical complaints.
  • Marked changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
  • Extreme difficulties in concentrating that get in the way at home.
  • Sexual acting out.
  • Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, or thoughts of death.
  • Severe mood swings.
  • Strong worries or anxieties that get in the way of daily life, such as school or socializing.
  • Repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs.

Protective Factors

  • Academic achievement/intellectual achievement.
  • High self-esteem.
  • Emotional self-regulation.
  • Good coping skills and problem-solving skills.
  • Family and community support (connectedness).
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation.
  • Family provides structure, limits, rules, monitoring, and predictability.
  • Supportive relationships with family members.
  • Clear expectations for behavior and values.
  • Presence of mentors and support for development of skills and interests.
  • Opportunities for engagement within school and community.
  • Positive norms.
  • Clear expectations for behavior.
  • Physical and phycological safety.