Dept. of Health and Human Services

Suicide Prevention

Developmentally, the years between childhood and adulthood represent a critical period of transition and significant cognitive, mental, emotional, and social change. While adolescence is a time of tremendous growth and potential, navigating new milestones in preparation for adult roles involving education, employment, relationships, and living circumstances can be difficult. These transitions can lead to various mental health challenges that can be associated with increased risk for suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth age 15-24.1 Approximately one out of every 15 high school students reports attempting suicide each year.2 One out of every 53 high school students reports having made a suicide attempt that was serious enough to be treated by a doctor or a nurse.3 For each suicide death among young people, there may be as many as 100 to 200 suicide attempts.4 For some groups of youth—including those who are involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; American Indian/Alaska Native; and military service members—the incidence of suicidal behavior is even higher.5

Despite how common suicidal thoughts and attempts (as well as mental health disorders which can be associated with increased risk for suicide) are among youth, there is a great deal known about prevention as well as caring for youth and communities after an attempt or death. Parents, guardians, family members, friends, teachers, school administrators, coaches and extracurricular activity leaders, mentors, service providers, and many others can play a role in preventing suicide and supporting youth.

Key Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
hotlineThe National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. When you call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), you are connected to the nearest crisis center in a national network of more than 150 that provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals day and night. The Lifeline also provides informational materials, such as brochures, wallet cards, posters, and booklets. Prestamos servicios en español (1-888-628-9454). Translators speaking approximately 150 languages are available.

2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action (PDF, 184 pages) 
The National Strategy is a call to action from the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention to guide suicide prevention in the United States. The National Strategy includes 13 goals and 60 objectives that reflect advances in suicide prevention knowledge, research, and practice, as well as broader changes in society and health care delivery.

Resources and Information on Suicide from SAMHSA
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funds and supports the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. It manages the Garrett Lee Smith grant program, which funds State, Territorial, and Tribal programs to prevent suicide among youth. SAMHSA developed the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), which reviews evidence of effectiveness for prevention programs on topics related to behavioral health, including suicide. SAMHSA also sponsors prevention campaigns and provides resources.

Injury Prevention and Control: Suicide Resources from CDC
Resources, publications and articles on suicide, prevention, and risk from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), including links to some statistical databases, including WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System), YRBSS (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System), National Violent Death Reporting System, and National Vital Statistics System.

Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts among U.S. High School Students: Trends and Associated Health-Risk Behaviors, 1991-2011
This article published in the Journal of Adolescent Health describes trends in suicidal thoughts and attempts and the types of associated health-risk behaviors among high school students.

Suicides — United States, 2005–2009
This report from the CDC provides data on suicide in the United States and differences in the characteristics of those who have died from suicide.

Suicide Information from the National Institute of Mental Health
Information on suicide prevention, treatment, and resources from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)—funded by SAMHSA—helps strengthen suicide prevention efforts of state, tribal, community, and campus organizations and coalitions as well as organizations that serve populations with high suicide rates. It provides technical assistance, training, resource materials and a newsletter, an online library, and customized information for professionals working to prevent suicide. SPRC also co-produces the Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.

Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention
The Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention is funded by the CDC to promote a public health approach to suicide research and prevention. It conducts research, provides technical assistance, and organizes conference calls, webinars, and an annual Research Training Institute for those engaged in suicide-related research and working in the field of suicide prevention.

1 CDC, 2011
2 Eaton et al., 2010
3 Eaton et al., 2010
4 McIntosh, 2010
5 HHS, 2012

Mental Health

It is normal for children and youth to experience various types of emotional distress as they develop and mature. For example, it is common for children to experience anxiety about school, or youth to experience short periods of depression that are transient in nature. When symptoms persist, it may be time to seek professional assistance. While most youth are healthy, physically and emotionally, one in every four to five youth in the general population meet criteria for a lifetime mental disorder and as a result may face discrimination and negative attitudes.1 As with physical health, mental health is not merely the absence of disease or a mental health disorder. It includes emotional well-being, psychological well-being, social well-being2 and involves being able to

  • navigate successfully the complexities of life,
  • develop fulfilling relationships,
  • adapt to change,
  • utilize appropriate coping mechanisms to achieve well-being without discrimination.
  • realize their potential,
  • have their needs met, and
  • develop skills that help them navigate the different environments they inhabit.3

The presence or absence of various combinations of protective and risk factors contribute to the mental health of youth and efforts can be undertaken to promote positive mental health and prevent or minimize mental health problems. Youth with mental health disorders may face challenges in their homes, school, community, and interpersonal relationships. Despite these challenges, for most youth, mental health distress is episodic, not permanent, and most can successfully navigate the challenges that come from experiencing a mental health disorder with treatment, peer and professional supports and services, and a strong family and social support network. 

1 Merikangas, He, Burstein, et al., 2010
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2011; CDC, Health-Related Quality of Life, 2011
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2004

New Reports Highlight Human Service Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Populations

Describe the human service needs of LGBT populations and discuss areas for future research.

Trafficking Prevention

Trafficking of youth is a form of modern slavery within the United States. It is a crime involving the exploitation of U.S. citizen/resident or noncitizen youth for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, regardless of whether the trafficker or the victim crossed state or international borders. If a person younger than 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is force, fraud, or coercion.1

Members of the youth-serving community are in a unique position to recognize children who may be on the path to becoming victimized and to report suspicions to the appropriate authorities. Once victims are identified, housing, medical and mental health, immigration, food, income, employment authorization, and legal services may be available to assist them. Federal agencies and departments are working collaboratively to raise awareness about human trafficking and the impact on victims, reduce the prevalence of human trafficking, support victims, prosecute offenders, and provide communities with the capacity to respond to the problem.

1 [U.S.C. §7102(8)]

Children of Incarcerated Parents

Having a parent in prison can have an impact on a child’s mental health, social behavior, and educational prospects.1 The emotional trauma that may occur and the practical difficulties of a disrupted family life can be compounded by the social stigma that children may face as a result of having a parent in prison or jail.2 Children who have an incarcerated parent may experience financial hardship that results from the loss of that parent’s income.3 Further, some incarcerated parents face termination of parental rights because their children have been in the foster care system beyond the time allowed by law4 or have questions about child support. These children require support from local, state, and federal systems to serve their needs.

Children of incarcerated parents may also face a number of other challenging circumstances. They may have experienced trauma related to their parent’s arrest or experiences leading up to it.5 Children of incarcerated parents may also be more likely to have faced other adverse childhood experiences, including witnessing violence in their communities or directly in their household or exposure to drug and alcohol abuse.6

For more information and resources on these overlapping problems, please see the additional links and resources in this youth topic:

For Parents and Caregivers

For Law Enforcement and Corrections Personnel

For School Administration and Teachers

For Child Welfare/Social Work and Clinical Professionals

1 La Vigne, Davies, & Brazzell, 2008
2 La Vigne et al., 2008
3 General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2011
4 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2011
5 La Vigne et al., 2008
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2013; Phillips & Gleeson, 2007