Building Hope: 9 Essential Steps to Reducing Youth Suicide

Adolescence is a critical time in everyone’s development — teens and young adults learn to make decisions, manage emotions, create deeper connections with peers and their communities, and build resilience. Young people’s developing brains are well suited to these tasks, but too often the systems that serve them are not. And the unique pressures they face today have fueled escalating rates of mental health challenges and the number of youth who die by suicide.

The Jed Foundation (JED) — a leading nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide among our nation’s teens and young adults — recently issued “Youth Suicide: Current Trends and the Path to Prevention,” which highlights suicide trends among youth. One of the report’s key findings was that 10% of high school students attempted suicide in the past year.

“Over the past few years, young people have been significantly impacted by society’s greatest challenges, including the pandemic, war, climate change, racial disparities and school shootings. They do this without the context, experience and resilience that adults possess,” said John MacPhee, JED’s chief executive officer.

Although overall suicide rates have continued to increase, there is reason for hope and actions to be taken. The report highlights provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that suicide rates for youth ages 10–24 declined between 2021 and 2022, including a significant drop (22%) for girls ages 10–14. With knowledge and resources, parents, educators, communities and policymakers can help reduce suicide rates among teens and young adults.

“We have an opportunity to actively protect teens and young adults by compassionately providing them with the skills and care they need to succeed while also working to reduce the barriers and risk factors in our society,” said MacPhee.

Supporting youth mental health and preventing suicide requires a systemwide, evidence-based approach. As part of the report, JED outlined nine essential steps to reducing youth suicide that offer solutions to support all youth — including specific recommendations for groups of young people who face additional stressors — improve youth mental health, and prevent suicide.

1. Take a comprehensive approach

Adopting a comprehensive approach is the first step in reducing suicide risk. A great example is JED’s Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which focuses on developing life skills, promoting social connectedness, identifying and supporting students at risk, increasing help-seeking behavior, providing mental health and substance misuse services, establishing and following crisis management procedures, and promoting means safety.

2. Create connection and community

In U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s 2023 advisory “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” he points out that youth are especially disconnected and isolated, which can fundamentally affect mental, physical and emotional health. Designing communities of care in schools, creating opportunities and spaces for young people to meet and gather organically, and supporting intergenerational connections can help address youth loneliness.

3. Meet basic needs and address trauma

There are strong links between poverty, societal and racial inequity, trauma and mental health struggles. That’s why it’s important to strengthen social safety nets to meet students’ basic needs — like housing, food, education and health care — and expand access to trauma-informed care.

It’s also critical to use community- and family-based, trauma-informed approaches for reducing youth involvement in the criminal legal system to address important root causes of suicide. Youth (ages 10–24) involved with the criminal legal system die by suicide at rates two to three times higher than the general youth population.

4. Increase coping and emotional support skills

Self-awareness and interpersonal skills help young people better solve problems, manage emotional stressors, and control impulses, improving their ability to move through challenges. Trained, caring adults and young people can play a vital role in helping youth develop and access emotional support and coping skills, including how to identify and reach out to someone who may be struggling and connect them to professional support.

5. Meaningfully increase access to care

Too many young people reach out for professional help and run into barriers. We must support the implementation and enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, require insurance coverage of mental health services delivered in schools, ensure that provider networks adequately serve diverse populations, and design crisis services to meet the needs of communities.

6. Make widespread use of proven suicide prevention treatments and interventions

There are underutilized treatments that meaningfully reduce suicidal thoughts and attempts. Prioritizing the use of proven approaches like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS), cognitive behavioral therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP), attachment-based family therapy, brief safety planning interventions, and pharmacological interventions can help lower suicide rates.

7. Reduce access to lethal means

Reducing access to lethal means is a powerful way to reduce suicide. This is especially true for firearms. Firearms are the leading method of suicide death overall, and approximately 90% of suicide attempts by firearm are fatal. Everyone from families to gun owner groups to legislators can play a role in advocating for and implementing responsible gun storage to meaningfully reduce suicide risk.

8. Advocate for safe online spaces

More and more young people are engaged in online activities in a largely unregulated space. Policymakers and other stakeholders must take a pro-safety approach to apps and platforms where young people spend time, centering youth in any efforts to improve them.

9. Leverage technology to support youth mental health

Although technology can pose risks for young people, it also offers more ways to connect with each other and access mental health care. By leveraging technology, we can provide youth with access to professional help through telemedicine, connect to young people where they are in digital spaces, and use the virtual worlds of gaming, the metaverse, and extended reality to offer resources and support in real time.

Everyone can do their part

“Suicide rates for young people have been rising for over a decade due to factors that include isolation, increasing access to firearms and difficulty connecting to mental health treatment. Particular groups of youth are disproportionately impacted because of the effects of social determinants of health,” said Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, JED’s chief medical officer. “Our first-of-its-kind report aims to provide a nuanced perspective on how these influences are driving suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and deaths among different groups of youth, and identifies strategies that can help parents, educators, public officials and policymakers mitigate these trends to improve young people’s mental health and save lives.”

However you’re involved in the life of a young person — as a parent, educator, coach or any other type of mentor — you can be the support they need.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

Download “Youth Suicide: Current Trends and the Path to Prevention” at jedfoundation.org/youth-suicide-current-trends-and-the-path-to-prevention. To learn more about how you can support the young people in your life, visit jedfoundation.org.

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