The Teenage Mental Health Epidemic


Content warning: This article details teenage suicide statistics and causes


According to the Center for Disease Control, one of the leading causes of death for 15 to 24-year-old Americans is suicide. Ranking in 2nd, behind unintentional injury and homicide, approximately 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood. The COVID-19 pandemic has not improved these numbers. At Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, the number of children and teens hospitalized after suicide attempts went up from 67 in 2019 to 108 in 2020. And October 2020 saw a 250% increase in these numbers over the previous October, says Hillary Blake, a pediatric psychologist at the hospital (Chatterjee, 2021).

There are many different factors that may put someone at risk for depression or anxiety. When left untreated can result in suicidal thoughts or actions. These risk factors include:

  • a family history of depression or suicide
  • emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
  • struggling with their gender identity and/or sexuality in an unsupportive family or community

In fact, LGBTQ individuals are 3x more likely than cisgender heterosexual individuals to attempt suicide at some point in their lives, and medically serious attempts at suicide are 4x more likely among LGBTQ youth than other young people.

Often times it’s difficult for parents to tell if their teen is depressed. Some red flags that your teen is experiencing emotional pain are problems at school, running away, substance abuse, low self-esteem, smartphone or internet addiction, reckless behavior, or violence. There is also a myriad of symptoms that can indicate your child is suffering from a mental illness. These may include:


  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains

It’s very important to take note of the things that can show that your child is planning to take their own life. One of the main indicators is joking about suicide or using catastrophic language such as, “I’d be better off dead,”. Sometimes if someone is planning to kill themselves they will give away prized possessions, or even say goodbye to their loved ones.

If you think your child may be depressed it’s imperative that you get them help. Focus on listening to them, be gentle but persistent, acknowledge their feelings, and trust your gut. It’s important to know when to seek professional help.