Wellness Matters

13 Reasons Why: Suicide Warning Signs in Teens

June 01, 2017

Suicide Warning Signs in Teens
The new Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why” is the fictional story of a teen who commits suicide, leaving behind 13 cassette tapes. Each tape is an audio recording of herself talking to a specific person who played a role in her decision to take her own life.

This show is very popular and has received mixed reviews from mental health experts, some of whom are fearful that it could be a catalyst for teens to act on suicidal thoughts they may already be having. Other criticisms are that it romanticizes suicide and downplays the character’s mental health condition, which is really the underlying cause of suicide. In addition, because the character reappears in every episode, individuals watching may not appreciate the finality of suicide.

And yet, “13 Reasons Why” can also open the door for talking with teenagers about suicide risk and offers an opportunity to educate young people on how to identify depression or suicidal warning signs in themselves and their peers. Here are 13 warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide:
  1. Comments about suicide, such as “I wish I weren’t here” or “The world would be better off without me.” 
  2. Increased substance abuse. 
  3. Changes in diet. 
  4. Taking dangerous risks such as running red lights. 
  5. Sleeping too little or too much. 
  6. Increasingly aggressive behavior. 
  7. Socially withdrawing from friends and family. 
  8. Extreme mood swings. 
  9. A fascination with death. 
  10. Impulsive and reckless behavior. 
  11. Talking about being a burden to others. 
  12. Talking about seeking revenge. 
  13. Talking about feeling hopeless. 

Other behaviors that suggest an individual is moving from suicidal thoughts to action include:
  • Giving away possessions. 
  • Outwardly expressing affection, emotion and saying goodbye to friends and family. 
  • A mood that suddenly shifts from despair to one of contentment. 
  • Seeking to obtain a device that could be used for committing suicide, such as a weapon or prescription drugs. 

Research shows that 90 percent of suicide victims experience mental illness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. Suicidal behaviors and thoughts are considered a psychiatric emergency, due to their dangerous nature. Anyone experiencing these thoughts should seek immediate assistance from a health or mental health provider.

Get immediate assistance for mental health issues by calling Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital’s 24-hour HelpLine at 336-832-9700 or 800-711-6235. Or walk into the Behavioral Health Hospital for a prompt in-person emergency assessment.

About the Author

Dr. Martha Perry, Cone Health Center for Children

Martha Perry, MD, is an Adolescent Medicine Specialist and serves as the Medical Director of The Tim and Carolynn Rice Center for Child and Adolescent Health. She is one of three board-certified adolescent medicine specialists in North Carolina.


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