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Teens and Suicide

by Mark Gregston

I’ve always pushed people away and love is kind of the issue for me.  I don’t believe that I’m a person who could be loved.  I think it has to do with how I grew up and the people that surrounded me and different negative things that really me brought me down.  And I think it’s kinda been drilled into my head a bit and so I’ve told myself that ever since and made myself believe it

~ Mackenzie, recorded one year before she took her own life 

Don’t Think Your Family Will Never Be Affected 

The sad reality is that suicide is unpredictable and we never know who it will seduce. 

Suicide doesn’t discriminate and any family can be affected.  If you have high school aged children, chances are suicide has touched their lives in some way. 

Current statistics tell us that 14-15-year-old boys are at the highest risk for suicide.  But 15-year-old girls are catching up.  This uptick in “death by suicide” for girls in this age category is at an all-time high for the first time in 75 years. 

The reasons behind a teen’s suicide or suicide attempt are complex.  And sadly, in today’s current society, suicide has simply become another viable option for teens as they navigate the world around them.  In previous years, suicide was viewed as something taboo, along with tattoos and children born out of wedlock, but if you were to poll any 18-year-old today, I’m sure they could tell you how they would kill themselves and what tattoo they’d like to get without much effort. 

Suicide used to be something that an outsider kid did in order to be rid of the pain he was feeling in his life.  But with our culture’s obsession with the occult and death, suicide no longer strikes only the loner.  It’s come to the heart of our culture and demands for teens to take the easy way out.  As long as there is uninhibited access to social media and programs that encourage and glamorize suicide, the call for teens to end their lives will increase. 

Watch for the Signs 

At Heartlight, we work with children and families from all backgrounds and from all walks of life, so we are not immune to the trials and struggles these families face.  To date, there have been thirty-six kids we’ve known personally who have taken their own lives. 

The phone calls are never easy.  Suicide is emotionally draining and devastating to everyone in the teen’s life.  No one walks away from their decision unscathed.  Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, classmates, and anyone else who might be wondering what they could have done to prevent it. 

Some families are caught unaware by their child’s decision, but for most other families, there are warning signs.  So, if you know a teenager exhibiting any of these signs, seek help right away.  Some of things to be on the lookout for are: 

  1. A change in personality. 
  1. Isolation. 
  1. No longer participating in their favorite activities. 
  1. Changes in eating or sleeping habits. 
  1. Talking about death or suicide. 
  1. Self-destructive behaviors. 
  1. Displaying anxiety related problems such as headaches, hives, and fatigue. 

These are a handful of warning signs, but they are not the only signs.  So, what are you supposed to do?  What do you do with a child who is bent on making a permanent choice regarding temporary situations? 

So, Now What? 

This is where it’s important for parents to know the difference between I want to die and I am going to die.  If your child is struggling, and finding themselves in a deep, dark hole, this is where you crawl in with them, so that you can help them navigate their way out together. 

Here at Heartlight, if a child has suicidal thoughts or tendencies, we don’t leave them alone—ever.  They should not be in a position where they are by themselves.  Then we take steps to seek treatment.  If there’s one time in your child’s life that you need to be diligent, it’s now.  Let your child know that you’re not leaving them.  If they run, you run.  And make sure you have on good shoes, it’ll be easier to navigate the rough road ahead. 

As a parent of a suicidal child, you cannot go to sleep or ignore the situation and hope that things will be better in the morning.  They won’t be.  And that’s okay, for now.  There’s no magical cure for depression or suicidal tendencies.  Once you come to grips with this fact, you can begin the work of healing and helping your child climb out of the darkness and into the light. 

Once the intensive treatment is completed and they’re back home, take steps to develop a relationship with your son or daughter.  Be open and attentive, giving them love, support, and encouragement.  Your teens need a place of rest and relaxation—a respite from the realities of a cruel, harsh world, so give it to them.  Be there for them in their time of need. 

And, then finally, be encouraged.  You don’t have to walk this road alone.  Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”  And God means every word He says. 


Mom, Dad … I don’t think I’ll ever understand why someone would want to cut their life short.  And that’s because I’ve never been in that dark place, but I have seen many people from all walks of life with all sort of issues take their own life.  I’ve spent countless hours with many families who spend years trying to process something which just can’t be processed.  These families I know who have lost their kids, never saw it coming and most never had the discussion with their teen about how painful life would be without them in it.  So, what is a parent to do?  Have discussions and talk about the dark feelings that your teen may occasionally feel.  And let them know what a blessing they are in and to your family. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.