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teen suicide

Myths and Facts about Adolescent Suicide

October 24, 2012—According to Maurizio Pompili, Professor of Suicidology at Sapienza University's Medical School in Rome, Italy, the first step in suicide prevention is trustful communication between adults and adolescents. Achieving this requires correcting some of the enduring myths people hold about adolescent suicide.

"Adults should not be discouraged by distressed and/or suicidal children's or adolescents' reluctance to speak to them," says Pompili . "Instead, they should remember that this attitude of avoidance is often a sign of distrust of adults. Suicidal children and adolescents also display marked ambivalence about whether to accept or reject the help that is offered to them and about whether to live or die."

Contrary to popular belief, says Pompili, the presence of depression is not the best predictor of suicide risk. Rather, pessismism about whether conditions can change (hopelessness about the future) is a more important indicator. The following additional myths and facts about teen suicide are reprinted with permission from "Evidence-Based Interventions for Preventing Suicide in Youths," in Evidence-Based Practice in Suicidology (2011).




Adolescent suicide is decreasing.


Since the 1950s, the US suicide rate for adolescents has more than tripled (K. A. King, 1999). From 1980 to 1992, the suicide rate for 15–19 year olds and 10–14 year olds increased 28% and 120%.

Most teenagers will not reveal that they are suicidal.


Most teens will reveal that they are suicidal. They prefer to discuss suicidal thoughts with a peer rather than a school staff member (Zenere & Lazarus, 1997).

Adolescents who talk about suicide do not attempt or commit suicide.


Adolescents who make threats of suicide should be taken seriously and provided the help that they need (Kirk, 1993).

Educating teens about suicide leads to increased suicidal behavior.


Directly asking an adolescent if he or she is thinking about suicide displays care and concern, and may aid in clearly determining whether or not an adolescent is considering suicide. Research shows that when issues concerning suicide are taught in a sensitive and educational manner, students demonstrate significant gains in knowledge about the warning signs of suicide and develop more positive attitudes toward help-seeking behaviors with troubled teens (Gould et al., 2003; Kalafat & Elias, 1994).

Parents are often aware of their child’s suicidal behavior.


Studies have shown that as much as 86% of parents were unaware of their child’s suicidal behavior (Zenere & Lazarus, 1997).

Most adolescents who attempt suicide fully intend to die.


Most suicidal adolescents are torn between wanting to end their psychological pain through death and wanting to continue living, though only in a more hopeful environment. Such ambivalence is communicated to others through verbal statements and behavior changes in 80% of suicidal youths (K. A. King, 1999).

Because female adolescents complete suicide at a lower rate than male adolescents, their attempts should not be taken seriously.


One of the most powerful predictors of completed suicide is a prior suicide attempt, regardless of sex of the attempter.

The only one who can help a suicidal adolescent is a counselor or a mental health professional.


Most adolescents who are contemplating suicide are not presently seeing a mental health professional. They are most likely to approach a family member, peer or school professional for help.


Reproduced with permission from Evidence-Based Practice in Suicidology by Pompili and Tatarelli, ISBN  978-0-88937-383-9, p. 178.
©2011  Hogrefe Publishing

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