Navigating Adolescent Emotions:
Understanding the Link Between Emotions and Youth Suicide

As youth across the nation embark on a new school year, it is often accompanied by a mix of emotions. These emotions may encompass excitement, nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even dread. The emotional spectrum tied to returning to school can differ significantly based on life experiences, personality, school culture, and age. It’s important for the adults in adolescents’ lives to establish environments where young individuals can openly communicate their thoughts and feelings. This support is crucial in helping them navigate this transitional phase in their lives.

Over the last several years, mental health concerns among youth have become increasingly recognized and addressed due to their profound impact on well-being and development. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is on the rise. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021 highlights alarming trends about the mental health of U.S. high school students. For example, in 2021 more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health. In addition, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.

Suicide significantly contributes to the mortality rate of adolescents in the United States, as depression continues to affect millions of young individuals across the nation. It ranks as the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24 in the country. Suicide rates within this demographic have surged by more than 57% between 2007 and 2018.

In Dr. Thomas Insel’s new book, Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health, he writes that “mental health has become a measure of the soul of our nation.” The Psychiatric Times noted, “If this is true, then our country’s soul is in a decidedly bad place. Healing suggests a path toward a better one.” Currently, the leading causes of death among adolescents are accidents, homicide and suicide. As youth continue to die by the hand of another or their own, the mental well-being of our youth needs to be addressed.

Emotions have been found to play a significant role in the complex landscape of youth suicide, influencing the development, escalation, and prevention of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Understanding the intricate connection between emotions and youth suicide is essential for mental health providers to effectively address this critical issue and provide appropriate support to young individuals in need. To date, researchers have found emotions to play a role in suicide in the following ways:


Emotional Turmoil as a Precursor: Adolescence is marked by intense emotional experiences as young individuals navigate identity formation, peer relationships, academic pressures, and family dynamics. Unresolved emotional conflicts, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, and anxiety, can contribute to the onset of suicidal ideation. Identifying and addressing these emotional struggles is crucial to preventing their escalation.


Emotional Regulation and Coping: Many young individuals lack well-developed emotional regulation skills, making them vulnerable to intense mood swings and emotional distress. When faced with overwhelming emotions, some may resort to self-harm or suicidal thoughts as a misguided coping mechanism. Teaching healthy coping strategies and emotional regulation techniques can empower youth to manage their emotions constructively.


Impulsivity and Emotional Reactions: Adolescents often act impulsively due to the rapid development of the brain’s reward system compared to the prefrontal cortex responsible for decision-making and impulse control. This impulsivity can lead to rash decisions, including impulsive suicide attempts, driven by heightened emotions and a temporary state of crisis.


Emotional Expression and Communication: Many youths struggle with expressing their emotions verbally, leading to internalization of distress. This emotional isolation can intensify negative feelings, contributing to a sense of hopelessness. Encouraging open dialogue about emotions and providing safe spaces for expression can reduce the emotional burden that contributes to suicidal ideation.


Emotional Resilience as a Protective Factor: On the other hand, strong emotional resilience acts as a protective factor against suicide. Youth who develop healthy coping skills, effective emotional regulation, and a support network are better equipped to navigate challenges without succumbing to suicidal thoughts. Fostering emotional resilience through education and therapeutic interventions can mitigate suicide risk.


Addressing Emotional Bullying: Emotional bullying and cyberbullying can subject young individuals to constant emotional distress. The feelings of shame, humiliation, and social isolation resulting from these experiences can amplify existing emotional struggles and contribute to suicidal ideation. Preventive efforts must include anti-bullying initiatives and emotional support for victims.


Identifying Warning Signs: Mental health providers should be vigilant in recognizing emotional cues and behavioral changes that may signal imminent risk. Drastic shifts in mood, withdrawal from social activities, changes in academic performance, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and expressions of hopelessness are crucial indicators that warrant immediate attention.


Therapeutic Approaches: Therapeutic interventions, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based techniques, can empower youth to manage their emotions effectively, challenge negative thought patterns, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. There is also evidence to support social emotional learning can help youth understand and express their emotions more effectively.

As the prevalence of mental health issues among youth has become a growing concern, with suicide emerging as a distressing outcome for many. As mental health providers, it’s crucial to comprehend the intricate interplay of suicide risk factors and to implement effective prevention strategies tailored to the unique needs of young individuals. Identified below are 10 strategies.

  1. Promoting Mental Health Literacy: Educate youth about mental health, reducing stigma, and encouraging open conversations about emotions. Mental health providers can collaborate with schools to implement awareness programs.
  2. Screening and Assessment: Regularly screen for mental health issues, especially in high-risk populations. Implement comprehensive assessments to identify suicidal ideation and behavior.
  3. Crisis Helplines and Support Services: Ensure youth are aware of helplines and local support services they can reach out to when in distress. Helplines like 988 offer immediate assistance.
  4. Building Coping Skills: Equip young individuals with effective coping strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions. Skills like problem-solving and emotional regulation are invaluable.
  5. Family and Community Involvement: Involve parents, caregivers, and communities in the prevention process. Strengthening family bonds and social support networks can provide a buffer against suicidal tendencies.
  6. Training Gatekeepers: Train teachers, coaches, and community leaders to recognize signs of distress and refer at-risk youth to appropriate mental health resources.
  7. Therapeutic Interventions: Evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) have shown efficacy in addressing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  8. Restricting Access to Means: Limit access to lethal means of self-harm, such as firearms and prescription medications, especially in households with at-risk individuals.
  9. Media Guidelines: Work with media outlets to promote responsible reporting of suicides, as sensationalized coverage can inadvertently trigger suicidal behavior.
  10. Postvention Plans: Develop postvention strategies to support those affected by a suicide attempt or loss, as the aftermath can be particularly challenging for youth and their communities.

As mental health providers, your role in preventing youth suicide is pivotal. By understanding the diverse risk factors and implementing evidence-based prevention strategies, you can significantly contribute to reducing the incidence of this tragic outcome. The CDC emphasizes the significance of building strong connections and fostering bonds with youth to protect their mental health. In addition to mental health providers, schools and parents play a crucial role in establishing protective relationships that contribute to the healthy development of adolescents as they transition into adulthood. The importance of fostering a culture of mental health awareness, open communication, and timely interventions cannot be overstated. Your dedication to the well-being of young individuals can make a profound difference in saving lives and shaping a healthier future. Thank you for the work that you do.

Ready to Learn More?

Suicide Assessment and Risk Reduction: Children and Youth Suicide: IN-PERSON CLASS

Our community continues to see high rates of youth suicide and suicidal ideation. This workshop will provide brief local data on youth mental health and an overview of the Living Ideation theoretical framework for suicide intervention. Through discussion and consideration of clinical case studies that use creative local resources, participants will:

  • be able to describe the continuum of suicide safety planning and the components of a comprehensive safety plan (including reducing access to lethal means);
  • learn strategies to increase parents’ and caregivers’ confidence in keeping their children safe following hospital intervention or to prevent hospital intervention;
  • increase their knowledge of available community resources to support youth and family members;
  • and learn to implement Living Ideation safety plans to stabilize youth in their home and community.

Presented by: Steve Nicholas, Ed.D., MFT; Jacquelyn Kleinedler, MA, MFT

Continuing Education Units: 6 CEUs

This training is approved for continuing education by the Nevada Certification Board for PRSS/PRSS-S and CHW, as well as by the boards listed here.

Las Vegas Training, April 15, 2024

Reno Training, June 18, 2024

*CASAT has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6492. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. CASAT is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs.

Presentation materials are not for reproduction or distribution without specific written authorization. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in our courses are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of CASAT


Alarcón, R. D. (2022). Important lessons for psychiatry and beyond. Psychiatric Times.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Youth Risk Behavior Survey . Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Mental health: Poor Mental Health Impacts Adolescent Well-being. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.,them%20grow%20into%20healthy%20adulthood

Committee for Children. (2019). Social-emotional learning and preventing youth suicide. Committee for Children.

Grant, M. J., Gilreath, T. D., Smith-Douglas, A., Bowring, A., & Pacheco, N. (2022). Predictors of suicide and associated factors in Texas High School Adolescents. Cogent Psychology10(1).

Posamentier, J., Seibel, K., & DyTang, N. (2023). Preventing Youth Suicide: A Review of School-Based Practices and How Social–Emotional Learning Fits Into Comprehensive Efforts. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse24(2), 746–759.

Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. (2021). “The State of Mental Health in America 2022” Mental Health America, Alexandria VA.

State of Nevada. (n.d.). The Myths & Facts of Youth Suicide. Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) Office of Suicide Prevention.

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