8 Things I Have Learned About Teen Suicide After Writing A Book About This Topic

By Jane Mersky Leder

I’m not a stranger to suicide. My mother’s first cousin took her own life, but the cause of her death was listed as an “accident.”

Three days before my wedding to my ex-husband, his aunt took her own life. Didn’t know whether or not to cancel the wedding. We went ahead.

My brother took his life on his 30th birthday. He stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

And so began my journey to try to understand why 44,000 Americans—more than 5,000 of them teens—decide that life is not worth living. I wrote a book about teen suicide in the late ‘80s and now some three decades later have written ‘Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide’. 


  1. We can never know for sure why some people choose to end their lives. We can make educated guesses, read the research and talk to suicide survivors, but in the end, we are left with questions that will never be answered.
  2. There is never just one reason why a young person takes their life. It’s not just the breakup with a boyfriend. Or just academic problems. Or alcohol or drug abuse. Or issues faced by LGBTQ teens. Nope, experts say it’s some six to 15 reasons why (not to be confused with the TV series “13 Reasons Why”).
  3. Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not That may sound counter-intuitive. But more than anything, someone struggling with suicidal thoughts wants someone to listen, to show that they care.
  4. It is never your job to save someone from taking his or her life but to connect with a mental health professional who has the training and expertise to help someone who is considering suicide.
  5. It is your job to break the code of silence if a friend, child or student tells you not to share his feelings. It is always better to have someone angry with you than not to have that person around at all.
  6. Recognizing the warning signs of potential suicide is essential. This is not always easy with teens who can be moody and uncommunicative. Still, it’s important to be on the alert and to notice changes in behavior: eating, sleeping, social habits. And it’s crucial to plug into even more serious warning signs, like a teen giving away their possessions, writing a will, crawling into a deep depression or severe anxiety, and an obsession with death.
  7. There are many myths out there about suicide. One of the most prevalent is that when anyone talks about suicide they are just looking for attention. The truth is that most teens who take their own lives do talk about it. They make open threats that, sadly, are too often ignored.

The following is an excerpt from Jane’s book*

Exploding the Myths/Recognizing the Warning Signals



MYTH: Once a person has decided to take their own life, no one can stop them.

REALITY: Not true. On the contrary, suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Many “signal” their intentions or talk openly about their plans. It is not your responsibility to save someone from taking his/her own life. But you can listen, watch for warning signs, and consult with a trusted adult who can then get professional help.

Ron’s Story

Ron Neal was probably hoping that his friends would rescue him at the last minute. Otherwise, his parents ask, why did he leave every door in the house unlocked? Why had the automatic garage door opener been unlatched, so that the door could be opened by hand from the outside? And why was the door between the garage door and the house kept open by a dog cage with a barking dog inside?

Unfortunately for Ron, his friends arrived too late. As they drove up the driveway, they saw the garage lights on and heard a car running. They rushed to the garage where they found Ron’s limp body slumped behind the wheel. He was already dead. In Francine Klagsbrun’s book ‘Too Young to Die’, the author wrote about a young woman who spent weeks planning her suicide. She jumped from her seventh-floor apartment window, but a tree broke her fall. She survived. Later, she talked about her feelings as she jumped. “As I began to fall, I wanted more than anything to be able to turn back, grab hold of the window ledge, and pull myself up.”

Tim’s Story

Tim was fifteen when he decided that life just wasn’t worth the hassle. He’d gotten into a fight at school earlier in the day. The night before, he and his girlfriend had had a big argument. His friends were mad at him too, and he didn’t know why.

“I was just really mixed up…I was making the people around me miserable too, so I thought the best thing for me to do was kill myself.”

Tim was saved by his older brother, who came home unexpectedly in the middle of the day, broke into the house through the back window, found Tim unconscious, and immediately called 911.

“I guess I’m pretty damn lucky,” he says now. “Being in the hospital kind of cleared my head. Before, I’d walk around either so stoned or so confused that I didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time. It made me learn to take things much easier. I’m glad my brother came home early that afternoon.”

MYTH: Once a person tries to take their own life and does not succeed, the pain and shame will keep them from trying again.

REALITY: In fact, just the opposite is true. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, people are at the highest risk of a second attempt—this time perhaps succeeding.

Jeffrey’s Story

Jeffrey’s story is a perfect example. He had thought about suicide every day for six months. He hated who he was—“just ordinary.” He didn’t get the praise he needed from his parents and felt that they paid more attention to his brothers and sisters. The first time he attempted suicide, Jeffrey waited until his family had left for the day. Then he swallowed thirty-five aspirin tablets, one by one. He drank a beer and lay down to die. Then he started to get really sick. His ears rang for four days. He told some friends about what he’d done. They didn’t seem to believe him.

Six weeks later, Jeffrey decided to try again. He drank Jack Daniels until he got up the courage to use the handgun he had put on top of his bedroom dresser. But he was too drunk to get up. Instead, he passed out. Luckily, Jeffrey didn’t get a chance to try a third time. Before that could happen, a friend read a journal he was keeping for one of his classes. It was filled with thoughts of death. The friend told the school social worker, who met first with Jeffrey, then with his parents.

Jeffrey was rushed to a psychiatrist, who insisted he be hospitalized immediately. Jeffrey spent the next four months in the hospital, where he gained a new lease on life. If his friend hadn’t stepped in, chances are that Jeffrey wouldn’t be around today. His advice to other suicidal teens: “Don’t do it.”

MYTH: When a suicidal person’s depression appears to have lifted and they seem better and happier, they is out of danger.

REALITY: Depression can be most dangerous just when it appears to be lifting. When a person is severely depressed, they may want to die but may lack the energy and power to carry out a plan. But when they feel a bit better, it’s easier to carry through with a suicide.

Steve’s Story

The psychiatrist who saw Steve wrote a letter to the marine recruiting office saying that he was severely depressed. He had stopped eating. He couldn’t sleep. And he had threatened to cut off his big toe. After Steve got out of entering the marines, the depression seemed to lift. He started classes at a junior college, got a part-time job, and made plans to take out a girl he liked. Three months later, he was dead.

When a fifteen-year-old suburban Chicago boy killed himself, his family was shocked. “Things seemed to be going so much better for him. He appeared to have adjusted to our move to a new school district. And he had made plans to go fishing.”

MYTH: Talking to a troubled person about suicide will just give them ideas.

REALITY: Another common mistake. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas about suicide. The ideas are already there. Talking about them honestly and openly will help, not hurt. Most troubled people really want to talk about what’s bothering them. It’s a relief to get their pain out into the open, as long as they know their feelings will be taken seriously and with understanding.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when talking to a troubled young person is to deny the problems or to tell him or her that the problems aren’t really serious and will pass. Again, the best way to help someone thinking of suicide is to immediately tell a trusted adult who, in turn, will connect with a professional who will take over from there.

MYTH: People who kill themselves are crazy.

REALITY: Most suicidal people are not insane. Many who try to kill themselves suffer from severe anxiety, depression, or other conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often a result of sexual/physical abuse.

Every night I just want to go out, get

out of my head.

Every day I don’t want to get up, get

out of my bed.

“Every Night” — Paul McCartney






Jane Mersky Leder is an award-winning author and journalist. Her other books include The Sibling Connection: How They Shape Our Lives and Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex and World War II. Her feature articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Psychology Today, Woman’s Day, the Chicago Sun-Times and American Heritage.
The newest edition of ‘Dead Serious’ is available for purchase on Amazon.

Sources Include:

American Association of Suicidology

National Center for Health Statistics

American Journal of Public Health

The Task Force.org


Centers for Disease Control

Mayo Clinic

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