Warning signs that a teen may be bullied or contemplating suicide

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Statistically, bullying and suicide go hand-in-hand, but there are other warning signs that a teen may be considering taking their own life.

“The research is really clear that youth who report bullying are at high long-term risk for suicide,” said Brandon Davidson, program director at Next Step Community Solutions. “Youth who report being bullied, and even bullies themselves, have the highest rank of mental health outcomes, including emotional anxiety and thoughts of suicide.”

Davidson said some 160,000 students don’t go to school a day because they feel unsafe because of bullying.

Next Step Community Solutions is a Tyler-based nonprofit that provides substance abuse prevention and mental health services for a 23-county region.

The organization also surveys students on their attitudes toward drugs and alcohol as well as bullying.

“What we found is that no school is immune, and that kids typically report being bullied where there’s less supervision,” Davidson said.

Davidson said most districts have strict protocols on bullying, but the behaviors still can be subjective.

“Sometimes as adults, we have a really tight definition on what bullying is, but just because it doesn’t meet the technical definition on what a district defines as bullying doesn’t mean that child doesn’t feel bullied,” he said. “I think it’s important for schools and families to all be on the same page as a community.”

Davidson suggests talking to children about what to do if they see bullying.

“There’s some tension there because kids don’t want to become a target,” Davidson said. “It’s important to let that bully know you saw that behavior, and if (children) feel unsafe, to get an adult involved.”

Davidson said when looking at warning signs, it’s important to take the child’s personality into consideration. The more signs exhibited, the more likely there is bullying happening.

“Some of these signs sound like typical childhood behavior,” he said. “I would worry about these things if they cluster, and if a few of these signs come on rapidly, it causes an impact.”


- Children having injuries they can’t explain.

- Lost or destroyed personal items, including clothing, books or jewelry.

- Do they have frequent headaches or stomachaches? Are they faking illness to avoid school?

- Are they coming home hungry? They may not eat lunch because of the anxiety form being at school

- Trouble sleeping

- Declining grades, a loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school

- Sudden loss of friends. Are they starting to avoid social situations, such as dances or football games?

- Expressing feelings of helplessness or a noticeable change in their self-esteem

- Self-destructive behaviors including non-suicidal self harm, including cutting or burning.


Like bullying, there’s a long list of warning signs that a teen may be contemplating suicide. Davidson suggests taking the teen’s personality into consideration when looking at the list. The more signs exhibited, the more likely the teen is contemplating the act.

Another key is the level of planning they’ve made. The more developed the plan, the more likely the person is to attempt suicide.

If a friend or loved one suspects a person is contemplating suicide, Davidson suggests asking the big question outright.

“You have to assess the risk, and a way to do that is by asking,” he said. “I would start with asking and discussing. … I think a lot of times when young people have thoughts of suicide, they feel they are alone and they are the only person who has felt his way. Remind them that thoughts of suicide are common, but you don’t have to act on them.”

Davidson said to take every expression of suicide seriously and lead the person to get help.

A big no-no is to use guilt or threats, Davidson said.

“Don’t tell them they will ruin someone else’s life,” he said. “Don’t tell them to think about the way their parents will feel. If they are doing it out of revenge, that may be a motivating thing for them.”

Warning signs include:

- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves.

- Seeking access to means: pills, weapons, etc.

 - Talking about or writing about death or dying.

- Expressing hopelessness, including saying they have no reason for living or lack a sense of purpose

- Do they act recklessly or engage in reckless behaviors without thinking about it. Impulsive teens are more likely to attempt suicide without as much pre-thought.

- Increased alcohol or drug use, or the teen starting to use them. A percentage of suicides that are completed happen while under the influence.

- Withdrawing from friends or family

- Having a dramatic change in mood

- Sleep schedule changes – either sleeping all the time or unable to sleep.

- Giving away prized processions or making arrangement for pets.

- Are they seeking revenge or having rage or anger? This is a newer sign. Last year the show “13 Reasons Why” hit Netflix, and middle and high school students watched it. In that show the suicide was motivated by revenge.


- Suicide was the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24 in 2015.

- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12 to 18 in 2015.

- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease, combined.

- Each day in the US, there are an average of over 3,470 attempts by young people grades 9 to 12. If these percentages were applied to grades 7 and 8, the numbers would be higher.

- Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

Source: CDC

Digital Content Manager

Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.

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