Learn about suicide and how to find help for children and youth in Ontario.
For young people between 15 and 19 years of age, suicide is the second leading cause of death after accidents. The teen years are a time of transition, often accompanied by feelings of stress. The possible sources of stress are many and include personal relationships, social status, schoolwork, or worries about the future. Sometimes there can be added stress due to family conflict or breakdown.
While most young people are able to cope, a few may see suicide as the only way out.
More often than not, young people who attempt suicide are experiencing depression, other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, or substance use problems. It’s thought that most who attempt or complete suicide don’t really want to die, but feel the need to escape from a life that has become overwhelmed by feelings of pain and hopelessness.
Severe depression often gets in the way of rational thought and decision-making, and is a strong risk factor for suicide. If a person is very depressed, it’s hard for them to see that their problems are temporary or that solutions exist. People who are very depressed sometimes don’t even realize it. The depression can be so deep and intense that the person can’t imagine life could ever be any different from how it feels at that moment.
A person’s sex also plays a role. Females attempt suicide more often than males, but males are more likely to succeed in their attempts. Men and boys tend to use more violent means of suicide, so are less likely to survive the attempt. For every female death by suicide, there are three completed male suicides.
Other risk factors associated with suicide include:
- experiencing a significant personal loss or crisis
- living with past or present trauma or abuse
- feeling isolated from others
- minority sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered)
- exposure to suicide in the media or through personal relations
- living under chronically stressful social conditions, such as extreme poverty or homelessness
- prior suicide attempts
- a history of mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, or substance abuse
- a family history of suicide
- access to lethal means, such as guns or medications.
Youth in some communities are at increased risk of suicide, particularly youth in many Aboriginal communities where rates of suicide are much higher than the general population. The reasons for this are complex and longstanding. (For more information, see Aboriginal resources below.)
Depression and suicidal thinking are treatable. Anyone having suicidal thoughts needs to tell someone right away. Things can only get better.
Since risk of suicide is strongly related to depression, they share a number of warning signs:
- talking about feelings of hopelessness or no future
- talking about feelings of helplessness, of being trapped with no way out
- talking about feelings of being a burden to others
- having trouble concentrating and issues at school or work
- frequent complaints of physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
- eating or sleeping much more or much less than usual
- withdrawing from usual activities and relationships with friends and family
- engaging in risky, reckless or self-destructive behaviours like drug use or cutting
- acting anxious or angry, experiencing extreme mood swings
- talking about “going away,” giving away possessions to others
- talking about death, suicide or wanting to die
- threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- actively researching ways to die.
There may or may not be warning signs that a person is going to attempt suicide.
But if there are any signals, you need to take them seriously.
How you can help
For detailed guidelines on how to identify and help someone who is suicidal, see “Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours: First Aid Guidelines” (link below at Mental Health First Aid).
- Know the signs and signals.
- If you have concerns, ask if they are thinking about suicide (see Note below). It’s a myth that talking about suicide will “give someone ideas.” It won’t. If anything, it will show them they are not alone, that you care and you want to know how to help.
- Always listen carefully. Take concerns seriously. Let them do most of the talking.
- Don’t pass judgment.
- Avoid simplistic advice like “Cheer up.” Instead, let them know they’re important and you want them to live. Tell them directly: “You are really important to me and I don’t want you to die.”
- Let them know you are there for them. They are most likely feeling alone, alienated and unwanted.
- Ask how you can help. Trust is very important so only promise things you can actually do — but make sure they know you will help them to get help.
- You can’t do it all, but you can help your friend or relative get the help they need. If you are a young person yourself, tell a trusted adult about your concerns as soon as possible, even if you must break a promise of secrecy.
- Call a crisis line yourself to discuss options for your friend or relative.
Note: If someone considering suicide already has a suicide plan and the means to carry it out, don’t leave them alone. Treat the situation as an emergency (see Finding Help below). Call a crisis line. Stay with them until crisis workers or other emergency workers are there to help.
If you, or someone you know, are in crisis and considering suicide, don’t wait. Call someone who can help.
Contact a helpline
Kids Help Phone
Free, anonymous and confidential professional phone counselling and online counselling, available 24/7 for kids and youth 20 years of age and younger.
Ontario Distress Centres
Free, confidential support and information. Visit the website for a phone contact in your area. Hours of operation vary, but most answer calls around the clock.
Go to your nearest hospital emergency department
If this is not a crisis, you can find services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
Honouring Life Network – Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Resources
A website produced by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) to provide “culturally relevant information and resources on suicide prevention to help Aboriginal youth and youth workers dealing with a problem that has reached crisis proportions in some First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities in Canada.”
Za-geh-do-win Information Clearinghouse
Za-geh-do-win Information Clearinghouse “researches, collects, catalogues, and distributes culturally relevant resources” for aboriginal communities across Ontario. Includes The Key – Aboriginal Mental Health Services/Support Directory for resources and services. The website focuses on issues of health, healing and family violence.
The Trevor Project (US)
A national U.S.-based site committed to crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Ontario Suicide Prevention Network
Mental Health First Aid
Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours: First Aid Guidelines
Kids Help Phone
Youth friendly information, links and tips on what to do to help yourself or a friend.
Teen Mental Health (NS)
Information and resources including several downloadable booklets such as Are You Coping with Suicidal Thoughts? and Have You Lost Someone to Suicide?
Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (BC)
Coping with Suicidal Thoughts: A Resource for Patients
Here to Help (BC)
What is suicide?
A general guide in plain language prepared by the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.
Resources for Parents
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Information and specific guidance for parents on what to do if your child is at risk for suicide.
Suicide in Children and Youth: Guide for Parents