Self-Harm and Suicide Among Adolescents


Suicide is one of the major problems in the modern world. More importantly, it is the “leading cause of death among adolescents” today (McMahon et al., 2014, p. 1929). The severity of this issue cannot be overstated as young people often consider suicide to be the only option or a possible solution to their problems. However, the issue of self-harm is also commonly discussed in the same sphere has to be addressed as well.

Moreover, it is unclear whether these two problems are interconnected in the way that one leads to or presupposes the other, or they are not as connected as one might think. The reasons behind these decisions deserve one’s attention and their research and may help scholars understand the underlying issue of suicide and improve the currently existing interventions. It is important to explore the issue of suicide and self-harm in adolescents and determine which reasons lead to these behaviors and how they are interconnected and related to people’s young age.


As was mentioned before, suicide remains to be one of the major causes of death among adolescents. This data suggests that such a prevalent issue should have not one but a plethora of reasons behind young people’s choices. However, in order to understand the risks associated with suicide, it is not enough to look at the existing statistics. While other causes of death such as heart disease or excessive weight can be linked to various health-related issues, suicide is a more complex reason combining both physical, mental, and societal problems.

According to McMahon et al. (2014), the rates of suicide are increasing worldwide. Therefore, the reasons behind this happening are also becoming more pressing. The understudied issue of suicide reveals many holes in research as the problem remains to be prevalent in many countries of the world. Medically, suicide ideations may be hard to treat because of their complex nature. However, as the issue seems to be even more pressing among adolescents, one might assume that the reasons may be linked to this particular age group and its unique features.

Reasons for Suicidal Behavior

For example, one can examine the typical problems of adolescents to understand what can lead them to develop suicidal behaviors. The first possible reason lies in biological changes that are typical for adolescents. During this period of life, young people grow significantly, and their body changes as well. They also develop new types of social relationships such as romantic ties and have a different structure often introduced to them in school (Abrutyn & Mueller, 2014).

In middle and high school, adolescents often adopt a more hierarchal system of relations focused on different aspects of one’s personality, physical attributes, and socioeconomic status. Therefore, as the relations between peers change, so does their behavior towards each other. Moreover, their attitude towards older and younger people changes as well, as they enter a stage between a child and an adult.

For example, the existence of role models is typical for many students of that age as they strive to find their identity or construct it using the examples of others (Abrutyn & Mueller, 2014). Moreover, the issue of conformity and peer pressure also has an effect on young people, raising the levels of stress and creating tense situations on the basis of factors that these people often cannot control (Geoffroy et al., 2016). Victimization, for instance, becomes an issue and can raise the rates of suicide among adolescents significantly.

Thus, adolescents who for some reason become less respected or recognized by their peers may develop suicidal ideations as a way to deal with pressure and choose a non-confrontational path to “solving” the issue. However, the relation between ideations and actual behavior is also significant to comprehend as the mechanisms of one leading to another should be found. According to Geoffroy et al. (2016), peer victimization often leads to another problem – self-harm, which does not always result in developing actual suicidal behaviors.

Moreover, suicidal ideations do not always result in actual attempts as well. However, all issues are strongly connected to one’s relationship in the peer group. In fact, peer appreciation and internal ties in the group may have both positive and negative effects on adolescents. According to Abrutyn and Mueller (2014), suicidal ideations and attempts of friends and family may increase the possibility of an adolescent developing similar patterns of behavior.

At the same, the process of normalization of such attitudes in a peer group can also greatly increase the risk of suicide among adolescents if one’s friends or respected members of the group present self-harm and suicide as a positive concept or an action without strong negative connotations, the affected individuals (including adolescents with a lower societal status in this group) may be encouraged to view these ideas as acceptable. Thus, suicide becomes “contagious” in adolescents with a strong need to be a part of the group. The level of conformity may be directly linked to the level of development of such behaviors among these young individuals.


Another problem that often stays unrecognized in the discussion about adolescent suicide is self-harm. The act of inflicting physical pain or injury on one’s body, also called self-injurious behavior, is an issue that comes hand in hand with suicide for adolescents. However, it remains unclear whether self-harm can be considered a part of the suicidal behavior patterns or it is a separate attitude that leads to, presupposes, or is not connected to suicidal behaviors at all.

According to Dickstein et al. (2015), self-harm among adolescents is often connected to suicidal ideations, although its different types may suggest varying levels of these concepts’ connection. Thus, even non-suicidal harm infliction should not be dismissed by clinicians in establishing the young person’s presupposition to suicide. Moreover, while different levels of harm may suggest various attitudes, all patterns of behavior that include self-injury should be considered potentially dangerous.

However, some adolescents who may have had a suicide attempt never engaged in self-harming behaviors (Dickstein et al., 2015). Moreover, they did not have any interest in self-injury. On the other hand, many adolescents who engaged in these practices did not have any attempts of suicide, although they expressed thoughts about death and related to these concepts rather strongly. Therefore, the connection between these two types of behavior is more complicated than one might assume. One does not always lead to the other, and both kinds of attitudes may exist together or separately.


The rising problem of suicide among adolescents has a plethora of underlying issues that are not well researched due to the complexity of the problem. While the reasons behind suicides may appear to be studied from different angles, many details and unique features of the young age remain undiscovered by scholars. Adolescence is the period during which young people go through many changes and transition from one distinct phase to another.

Thus, they have many types of pressure, including physical, mental, and societal problems that may lead to them developing suicidal ideations. Peer pressure, for instance, often becomes a reason for adolescents to experience stress and become interested in such concepts as death and self-injury. On the other hand, the normalization of suicide, a seemingly opposite process, can also create positive connections between suicide and one’s idea of “fitting in,” leading to higher rates of suicidal behavior among young people.


Abrutyn, S., & Mueller, A. S. (2014). Are suicidal behaviors contagious in adolescence? Using longitudinal data to examine suicide suggestion. American Sociological Review, 79(2), 211-227.

Dickstein, D. P., Puzia, M. E., Cushman, G. K., Weissman, A. B., Wegbreit, E., Kim, K. L.,… Spirito, A. (2015). Self‐injurious implicit attitudes among adolescent suicide attempters versus those engaged in nonsuicidal self‐injury. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(10), 1127-1136.

Geoffroy, M. C., Boivin, M., Arseneault, L., Turecki, G., Vitaro, F., Brendgen, M.,… Côté, S. M. (2016). Associations between peer victimization and suicidal ideation and suicide attempt during adolescence: Results from a prospective population-based birth cohort. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(2), 99-105.

McMahon, E. M., Keeley, H., Cannon, M., Arensman, E., Perry, I. J., Clarke, M.,… Corcoran, P. (2014). The iceberg of suicide and self-harm in Irish adolescents: A population-based study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49(12), 1929-1935.