Addressing Mental Health Among Youth to Reduce Suicide Risk

Erin Ficker, MPAff, CSPS
Female adult sitting on sofa speaking with a younger female

Mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, and previous suicide attempts are common risk factors in youth suicide; while access to mental health services serves as a protective factor against youth suicide.[i] Suicide risk and protective factors are well known[ii], and yet the number of youth reporting depression and suicidal thoughts continues to grow. 

From 2009–2019, youth in high schools reported significant increases in the percent experiencing:

  • Persistent sadness or hopelessness, from 26% in 2009 to 37% in 2019
  • Seriously considering attempting suicide, from 14% in 2009 to 19% in 2019
  • Making a suicide plan, from 11% in 2009 to 16% in 2019
  • Attempting suicide, from 6% in 2009 to 9% in 2019[iii]

The suicide rate among youth aged 10-19 decreased to 6.7 per 100,000 in 2019 from 7.2 per 100,000 in 2018. While this data is optimistic, we are mindful of the 10-year trend that indicates an increasing pattern – from 4.5 per 100,000 in 2010 to 6.7 per 100,000 in 2019.[iv]

In addition to disparities by race/ethnicity, sex, geography, and sexual orientation, the COVID-19 crisis has heightened risk factors for youth such as social isolation, depression, and anxiety; while also taking away protective factors such as school connectedness[v], access to in person mental health services, and, for tens of thousands of youth, the trauma of losing a parent or loved one to COVID-19. [vi]  Dr. Rachel Levin, behavioral pediatrician in Chicago IL shares, “We are in a mental health crisis… I wish I could see more kids, but there isn’t enough time in the day.”[vii]

State government, schools, and families play a key role in implementing equitable suicide prevention strategies to ensure youth receive the information and supports they need.

State Level

  • Provide funding and support to schools and community organizations for gatekeeper training to identify and reach at risk youth.[viii]
  • Conduct statewide mental health stigma reduction campaigns that can be shared with communities for local implementation.
  • Support schools to create systems to refer youth and families to community mental health services, including follow up care to ensure services are provided. [ix]
  • Work within state government to remove silos that hinder collaboration – especially state departments of education, health, human services, etc. [x]

Connecticut’s Director of Community Mental Health, Tim Marshall shares, “We are working to make connections between schools, behavioral health providers, and pediatricians, to get them to talk to each other regularly and be inclusive of families and students. It is hard work, but we ultimately want to move what might be informal relationships to formal sustainable relationships to help youth.”[xi]


  • Provide social emotional learning opportunities for all students to increase stress management, resilience, and relationship building skills.
  • Focus on positive school climate that builds trusting relationships where students have at least one adult they can reach out to or one adult that can reach out to them.[xii]
  • Follow up and track progress on referrals to community mental health providers to ensure students receive the support they need.
  • Reduce stigma and normalize seeking and receiving support through the use of universal suicide and mental health screenings.


  • Talk with children about mental health and suicide at an early age.
  • Inquire with your child’s doctor that they are conducting social emotional health screenings through adolescence.
  • Seek professional help and access to mental health support at the earliest signs of mental health issues or trauma.[xiii]
  • Ensure children feel safe asking for help by reducing the stigma around mental health conditions.[xiv]


If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

[i] Bilsen, J. (2018). Suicide and Youth: Risk Factors. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 540.

[ii] Bilsen, J. (2018). Suicide and Youth: Risk Factors. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 540.

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019.

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). CDC WISQARS 2010-2019.

[v] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 05). Connection is Key to Good Adolescent Mental Health.

[vi] Kingkade, T., & Chuck, E. (2021). Suicidal thoughts are increasing in young kids, experts say. It began before the pandemic. NBC News.

[vii] Dr. R. Levin, Behavioral Pediatrician, Rush University Medical Practice, Chicago, IL, personal communication, April 3, 2020.

[viii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 25). Suicide Prevention: Fast Facts.

[ix] T. Marshall, Director of Community Mental Health, Department of Health, CT, personal communication, April 7, 2021.

[x] T. Marshall, Director of Community Mental Health, Department of Health, CT personal communication, April 7, 2021.

[xi] T. Marshall, Director of Community Mental Health, Department of Health, CT personal communication, April 7, 2021.

[xii] (2019, May 30). The Promise of Preventing Suicides by Mobilizing Communities.

[xiii] American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2020, August 17). Teens and suicide: What parents should know.

[xiv] Children’s Health.  (2021, April 12). Common mental health myths.

Child Safety Topics
Suicide Prevention