10 Subtle Suicide Warning Signs In Teens To Never Ignore

These signs may be more than just being a typical moody teenager.

Last updated on Feb 20, 2024

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Teen depression is an extremely dangerous issue that often goes unnoticed.  In many situations, the symptoms of teen depression can mimic other issues, such as simply being a moody teenager. This makes it difficult for parents to be aware of what is happening to their children. The parents are often the last ones to know that their child is dealing with depression. One of the most serious effects of depression is suicide.


Unfortunately, it is easy to miss the signs of depression or teen suicidal thoughts or to mistakenly assume they are only symptoms of a phase your child may be going through. Learning information about what might lead a teen to suicide may help to prevent the risk of tragedies. Even though suicide is not always preventable, it is always a good idea to be as informed as possible and to take action to help a potentially troubled teenager. One of the most important ways to be informed is to know and recognize the warning signs of teen suicidal thoughts early to get the child the help they need before it’s too late.


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Here are 10 subtle suicide warning signs for teens to never ignore:

1. They lose interest in their favorite activities

For example, maybe your teen was involved in a school sport and quit without being able to provide a satisfactory explanation for their quitting. Other unusual behaviors should also be questioned, such as if your teen has been involved in any type of hobby and suddenly stops doing what they previously enjoyed. This may be an indication that they are depressed and may be having thoughts of suicide.

2. They withdraw from social interactions

Teens who have thoughts of suicide often withdraw from some of their social interactions. However, they may not completely cut themselves off from all of their friends. If your teen is suddenly making excuses to not go to family events, avoids interacting with family members, or suddenly stops going to a friend's house or having friends over, it may also be a sign of depression or thoughts of suicide.

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3. They neglect their hygiene

Teenagers are notorious for wanting to dress fashionably and are typically overly cautious in their hygiene. Teens who are thinking about suicide often stop caring about how they dress or their hygiene. If your teen is typically cautious about their hygiene and suddenly shows no interest in how they dress or loses interest in their appearance, it may be a cause for concern.

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4. They complain of physical discomfort

Being emotionally distressed can also cause your teen to experience physical pain and discomfort. Teens who are contemplating suicide often complain about fatigue, stomachaches, migraines, and/or other physical issues, but there isn’t any physiological or other explanation for their pain. These issues should be addressed immediately.

5. Loss of interest in their schoolwork

Many suicidal teens will struggle with caring about their school work. Most will not pay attention while in the classroom and are failing their classes. If your teen suddenly has a drop in their grades, it may be a concern.


6. They are unmotivated

Depressed teenagers often complain of being bored and they appear unmotivated about anything. As time goes by, they may act as though nothing in their life is important.

7. There are signs of substance abuse

If you notice signs of drug or alcohol abuse (whether legal or illegal), it is a red flag that should not be ignored, especially if this is sudden behavior for your teen.

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8. They are taking dangerous risks

Teens who engage in dangerous activities and talk about doing life-threatening activities may be depressed and suicidal. The teen may be at a phase where they want to do something daring for them to "feel alive" or they may push the limits to hurt themselves or get closer to death.


9. They joke or talk about death

When a teen talks about death and dying and the conversation is out of the blue or not related to the current conversation, it is a serious warning sign that parents should be aware of. While the teen may be joking, it will not hurt to err on the side of caution.



10. They are giving away their things

Teens who are having suicidal thoughts will often give away their possessions. Regardless of how inexpensive an item is, if your teen is giving away their belongings or makes comments like "I want you to have this if I die", it is a serious issue and typically means the teen is having thoughts of suicide and wants to ensure their possessions go to those who have significance to the item after their death.

It is extremely important to keep a close eye out for teen suicidal thoughts if your teen is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding teen depression is extremely important because it may look different from the commonly held beliefs about depression. For example, depression among teens may take the form of problems with grades, friends, sleep, or simply being cranky and irritable instead of being chronically sad or crying.


Listen between the lines when your teen is talking. For example, saying they are tired or sleepy but have had a good night’s sleep. The single most important thing parents can do when they see any warning signs of teen suicidal thoughts is to support them. It is common for parents to be reluctant to ask their teens if they have been thinking about hurting themselves or if they are thinking about suicide. Some parents fear that by asking, they are going to plant the idea of suicide into their teen’s head.

As difficult as it may be, it is always a good idea to ask. Sometimes it is helpful to explain why you are asking. For example, you may say that you’ve noticed they have been talking a lot lately about wanting to be dead: "Have you been having thoughts of trying to hurt yourself?" Suicidal teens have often lost hope in life and feel as though what they are going through is impossible to overcome. If their parents show them that they will be there for them no matter what happens and that they will find hope again, it can be a significant help in preventing suicide. 

You must try to keep the lines of communication open and express your support, concern, and love. If your teenager confides in you, show them that you take these concerns seriously. In most situations, a fight with a friend may not seem like a big deal to you, but for a teenager, it can feel consuming and overwhelming. It is important to not minimize or discount what your teenager is going through, because this may increase their sense of hopelessness. If your teen does not feel comfortable talking with you, suggest someone more neutral, such as another relative, a school counselor, a member of the clergy, or your teen’s physician.


If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there is a way to get help. Please call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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Dr. Jeff Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist, and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. He has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King to CNN, The Today Show, and MTV.