Those Who Are at Risk

People at risk of suicide come from a wide variety of backgrounds. There is not a special set of characteristics or personality traits that are common to all suicides. Unfortunately, suicide knows no boundaries. This is obvious since all kinds of youth end their own lives regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, economic background, and mental or physical state. Nevertheless, there are some general risk factors that apply to a large number of suicidal teens that may make suicide more likely for a given individual.

In general, adolescents are at higher risk for engaging in suicidal behaviors following a significant loss such as the death of a friend or family member, parental divorce or separation, or a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Teens who are depressed, involved with alcohol or other drugs, or are victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse have a higher potential for suicide. There is also heightened risk for those who have attempted suicide in the past or who come from a home where someone has committed suicide.

Research shows that adolescent females attempt suicide more often than adolescent males, but that males complete suicide at a higher rate. The most likely reason for this is that males tend to choose methods that are more lethal (e.g., gunshot, hanging, automobile crash), whereas females often use methods that are considered less lethal (e.g., drug overdose, slashing of wrists, carbon monoxide poisoning).

The rates of attempted suicide among gay and lesbian populations are two to six times greater than suicide rates for the general population. These statistics suggest that gay youth are at a greater risk for suicide than their straight counterparts. Finally, suicide risk is higher for teens who are gifted, have learning disabilities, or are pregnant or responsible for a pregnancy.

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