Reaching Out for the Suicidal

Reaching Out for the Suicidal


Recently there is a series of suicides among teenagers, leaving the society feeling sorry for the loss of young lives, and drawing public attention to the issue of mental health in teenagers. So what in fact drive the teenagers to commit suicide? Is it simply caused by a single setback in life (e.g. failing in an exam, being reprimanded by parents), as suggested by the media? And as Teens, how can we identify friends who are at risk for suicide? What can we do to reduce their risk of attempting suicide?


Causes of Teenage Suicide

The causes for teenage suicide is complex, and cannot be explained by a single factor, but rather an interplay of multiple factors including biological, psychological, and social. Past research findings revealed that as high as 90% of teenagers who attempted suicide are suffering from some kind of mental disorder, and the most common ones are Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. Both disorders can cause teenagers to have low / irritable mood, loss of interest in activities that they enjoyed in the past, social withdrawal, reduction or increase in appetite, sleeping less or more than before, fatigue and loss of motivation, concentration difficulties, negative thinking (e.g. feeling hopeless, worthless, thinking that life is meaningless), and even self-harm or suicidal ideation.


Apart from mental health problems, teenagers who face problems in life for a prolonged period of time and not having effective ways to cope also have an increased risk of suicide. Such as failing to reach their ideal standard of academic achievement despite continuous effort; being bullied; being in a dysfunctional family, often being criticized, blamed, or not enjoying a close relationship with family, causing the teenager to feel unloved…


When teenagers face the above issues or even a combination of them for a prolonged period of time, and at the same time lack appropriate support and effective coping strategies, their suicidal ideation may be triggered by an event that produces feelings of failure or loss, such as receiving a bad grade on an exam, having an argument, breaking up with a partner. The teenagers may think they have no way out, and committing suicide is the only solution.


Identifying At-Risk Teenagers

To identify teenagers at risk for suicide, we can pay close attention to whether they exhibit some of the aforementioned symptoms of depression and see if they are struggling with life difficulties for a prolonged period of time. Special attention can be paid to the content of their speech, whether they had expressed feelings of hopelessness, feeling that life is meaningless, feeling ‘unbearable’, or even mentioning about death and preparing for it (e.g. giving away prized items, writing a suicide note).


Some people believe that those who talk about won’t in fact do it. This is indeed a great myth! Researchers pointed that those who mentioned about suicide are at greater risk for it than those who did not. So if someone mentions suicide, please take it seriously!


Helping Suicidal Teenagers

So what can we do if we suspect our classmate is contemplating suicide, or if a young person revealed to us their suicidal ideation?

  1. Directly ask whether they had contemplated suicide. Some people worry that this may give teenagers the idea when talking about suicide. But this is invalid, because teenagers do not need suggestion by others to contemplate suicide. Directly asking the at-risk teenagers can in fact help by giving us a clearer idea of their thoughts (e.g. whether they had actually planned it), and offer them more appropriate support.
  2. Listen to them, give them an opportunity to express their suppressed feelings. This can help reduce their sense of loneliness, and can possibly reduce their impulse to commit suicide. A lot of times when people listen, they may offer suggestions to teenagers, teaching them how to cope with the problems out of good will; or even tell them that it’s ‘unwise’ or ‘unfilial’ to commit suicide, hoping that the teenagers would change their minds. In fact offering suggestions and judging them would only leave them feeling worse about themselves and their coping abilities. So next time when you listen, just listen attentively without jumping to advice or judgment.
  3. Encourage or accompany the teenager to seek help. Remember not to handle the situation alone, and encourage the teenager or even accompany him/her to seek appropriate help, for example from a school social worker or a doctor. We need to proactively offer them help as suicidal teenagers often do not believe they can be helped early on.
  4. Take care of yourself. While you can support your friend who is suicidal and encourage him or her to seek help, don't take responsibility for making your friend well. Ultimately, he or she has to make a personal commitment to get help and recover, not you. At the same time, understand that helping someone who thinks about ending his or her own life can stir up many difficult emotions, so don't forget to take care of yourself. Find someone that you trust (e.g. friend, family, school social worker) to talk to about your feelings and get support of your own.


Crisis Hotlines

Suicide Prevention Services


The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong


The Samaritans


HKFYG Hotline


Breakthrough Counselling Centre


Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre




American Academy of Pediatrics. (2007). Teen Suicide, Mood Disorder, and Depression. Retrieved from


Suicide Prevention. (2016). In Retrieved from


Teen Suicide Statistics. (2015). In Retrieved from