Positive Living Newsletter

Building a Safer Community for Suicidal Teens

Chieh Hsu, M.A.

The first time parents laid eyes on their newborn child, they probably pictured various milestones: first steps, first day of school, college graduation, and, perhaps, a big wedding. What may have never occurred to them is that, as their child grows, he or she may be at risk of suicide. Shocking news to most parents, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States (Heron, 2018).

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System in the United States (Kann et al., 2018), 7.4 percent of youths in grades 9 to 12 reported that they attempted suicide at least once in the past 12 months; an additional 13.6 percent reported that they made a suicide plan in the past 12 months. With such alarming statistics, how can we help these high-risk teens?

A recent study of the Youth-Nominated Support Team Intervention for Suicidal Adolescents (King et al., 2019) suggested that a community approach is one option. In this secondary analysis study, 448 hospitalized suicidal teenagers (ages 13 to 17) from two US psychiatric hospitals were randomly assigned to a control group or a treatment group. Teenagers in the control group received the same treatments prior to and after their hospitalization, whereas teenagers in the treatment group, in addition to receiving prior treatments, were also asked to name caring adults as their supportive persons after hospitalization. These “nominated caring adults” (average 3.4 adults per teenager) then received a psycho-educational session (e.g., learn about the teenager’s unique challenges, treatment plan, suicide warning signs, and communication skills) and learned how to support the teenager in treatment compliance and making positive choices. These adults also received weekly supportive telephone calls from trained staff for three months. After 11 to 14 years from the index hospitalization, among all 448 participants, there were 2 deaths in treatment group and 13 deaths in the control group.

From a clinician’s perspective, this study is of practical value. By educating and supporting caring adults for youth at risk, we can build a safer and empathetic environment for suicidal teenagers.


Heron, M. (2018). Deaths: Leading causes for 2016. National Vital Statistic Reports, 67(6), 1-76. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_06.pdf

Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L. Flint, K. H., Queen, B., Lowry, R. … & Ethier, K. A. (2018). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries, 67(8), 1-479. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf

King, C. A., Arango, A., Kramer, A., Busby, D., Czyz, E., Foster, C. E., & Gillespie, B. W. (2019). Association of the youth-nominated support team intervention for suicidal adolescents with 11- to 14-year mortality outcomes: Secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(5), 492-498. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4358.