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Teen Suicide Information for
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Abuse and Suicide

Abuse and Social Services

Resistance to Reporting Abuse

Dangerous to Tell the Truth

Characteristics of Depressed and Suicidal Teens

Suicidal Feelings and Unmet Emotional Needs

Self Harm and Society

Quote from 27year old who tried to kill herself as a teen:

Incest Victim Who Wasn't Believed by Her Mother

Adolescent Suicide: A Call for Parental Liability

Teens Who Say "I'm fine. It doesn't matter."

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The Internet has given teens a new, safe place to express their thoughts and feelings. It has helped them feel less alone by making connections with others in similar life situations. Many of them find it much easier to write and chat about their lives online than to talk to someone in person or even anonymously on the phone. For those who won't talk to anyone else, for whatever reasons, the Internet has proven to be a life-line.

The Internet has also provided unprecedented real-time access to their daily lives. They can chat and write about events in their homes as they are happening, or minutes after. Talking to them and listening to their stories for 5 years now has helped me understand the cause and effect relationships between how they are treated at home and how they think, feel and act. By talking to them we have had an insider's view of what goes on in abusive homes. And by listening to them we have learned how schools are often emotionally unsupportive, to put it mildly.

Talking to suicidal teens and reading their online writing has opened our eyes to how incredibly thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive young people can be even in their early teens and pre-teens. It also helped us understand how much emotional pain they can be in, and where this pain comes from, something which has often filled our own eyes with tears.

As we talk to them we try to build their self-esteems, give them some healthier coping skills and increase their emotional knowledge and understanding. There is a great need and a great opportunity for this type of help.

One of the things which has proved to be the most helpful is our online teen chat support group. This is a place where depressed, suicidal and self-harming teens can talk to each other, feel less alone and not have to worry about being reported to the authorities. It is here they can finally be honest and finally find people who can understand them. This is a private chat room, open only to those teens who write to us specifically and request to join. We believe it is helping save lives, and the teens report this to be true.

Abuse and Suicide

From our work with teens we have seen that there is a direct and very strong connection between repeated abuse and suicidal feelings. While physical and/or sexual abuse by the parents and guardians has been present our observations support the research which shows that emotional abuse does the most lasting damage. Often, there has been physical abuse up to around age 10-12. By then the fear of the parents is well established. After that, the abuse is primarily emotional. In every case, the teen has suffered from disrespect, lack of emotional need fulfillment and emotional invalidation at home.

Sometimes, though, the physical and/or sexual abuse also continues up to the time the adolescent is legally able to leave the parents. By this point there is often almost nothing left of the person's self-worth and self-esteem. Even if they are still alive physically, their souls and spirits have been all but killed. It takes an exceptionally resilient person to survive 16 or 18 years of abuse, but some do. Others, however, find the emotional pain too great and either kill themselves or make repeated attempts to do so.

Abuse and Social Services

As we have seen it, a major problem is that many of the abused teens are "only" being abused emotionally now, so social service workers do not put a high priority on such cases. They are simply too overworked. Another problem is that often they are not even aware of suicidal teens before it is too late. Even when they are aware they can do very little to fill the teens' unmet emotional needs or to stop their emotional pain. Psychiatrists often try to put the teen on medication. But medication does not fill their emotional needs, nor does it make their parents better fathers or mothers.

As EQI.org founder S. Hein says,

"Putting Megan on medication does not make Mom a better mother."

This is so obvious, yet it needs to be said again and again until systems and beliefs are changed to reflect reality. (See note below about the Megan Meier suicide)

From our observations, the greatest source of pain for these teens is feeling a lack of caring, respect, acceptance, support, and understanding from their own parents or whoever they are living with and has control over them. To oversimplify, one can say it is coming from a lack of love - the love a parent normally gives those human beings entrusted to them. But social services workers can't force parents/ guardians to give love. Nor can they force them to either a) show caring, respect, acceptance or b) feel caring, respectful, accepting. If the feelings are not there, the behavior will never follow. And if the adult tries to show something which he or she does not truly feel, then any intelligent, sensitive teen will know the behavior is fake.

A social services worker in one country reported that they never prosecute emotional abuse cases since they are so overworked with physical and sexual abuse cases. Emotional abuse is also harder to see than other forms of abuse, perhaps especially for those who have experienced it. Author Nicky Cruz, who was a gang leader in New York City, makes this point when he says that when was growing up he was "too young to realize that the wounds inflicted by withholding love penetrated far deeper even than irresponsible punishment..." (citation)

Emotional abuse is also harder to prove in a court of law. This seems to be a flaw in our child protection services. As mentioned, studies show that emotional abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse. Another problem is that society, in general, is not designed to give parents the emotional competency training which they need. Parents are not trained in emotional skills and they are not tested for emotional intelligence or emotional competency.


Megan Meier Suicide - Several years after the original edition of this article, a teen in the USA named Megan Meier killed herself seconds after her mother failed to provide her the emotional support she desperately needed. See video of the mother's confession.

See also our page on emotionally abusive mothers

Resistance to Reporting Abuse

The teens we talk to do not want to report the abuse that is occurring in their homes. That is one reason they talk to us at EQI.org. The main reason they don't want to report it is because they have learned it is dangerous to tell the truth to anyone in their own cities, towns and villages. They have learned not to trust adults. We have seen that one of the most damaging forms of abuse is convincing a child or teen that it is dangerous to tell the truth. This is what has happened to virtually every teen we have worked with.

The teens have also been made to feel guilty for hurting their parents, breaking up families, etc. One 15 year old told us it was her fault for breaking up the family when she reported that her step-father was abusing her. She told us she could have just put up with it till she was 16 when she could move out.

Another teen told us she was afraid no one would believe her since one time when she was 11 she reported to her school leaders that her mother was hitting her, but instead of believing her and taking real action, they believed her mother, who said the girl was a compulsive liar and was just trying to get attention. Now, besides feeling afraid she won't be believed, she is afraid her parents will just make her life more miserable if she reports the abuse. So instead of reporting it, she tried to kill herself recently.

It is difficult for anyone to admit that they have been abused. It is especially difficult when the abusers are your own parents. Teens know that they will be talked about; that everyone at school will find out. This is extremely hard on them. They all yearn to be "normal." They know they will be treated differently by their peers. They also know there will be investigations and lots of questions and it will be extremely uncomfortable at home. They are afraid of punishment and retaliation if they report their own parents. When I urge teens to report what is happening they say things like, "It is so easy for you to tell us to report it. You just don't understand how hard it is for us." or "My father/mother/step-father would kill me if I did."

For many teens, even if they thought the authorities would believe them, they know there is no place to go once they have told the truth about their own parents. This makes it much harder for the teen to report abuse and it makes our work and the work of all caring people much, much harder.

Dangerous to tell the truth

As said above, suicidal teens have learned that it is dangerous to tell the truth. They have learned they will be attacked, invalidated, disbelieved and punished for telling the truth. A common theme in dysfunctional families is that the parents are in near complete denial. They don't want to hear that there are any problems. They don't want to hear any negative emotions from the teens. So they make the teen feel worse for telling the truth and the teen quickly learns to either lie or just keep his or her mouth shut. And if the teen does talk, and social services gets involved, the teen will probably be blamed by one of the parents for trying to break up the family.


Personal writing about a time when it was dangerous for me to tell the truth in Ecuador


Characteristics of Depressed and Suicidal Teens

From our observations and over ten years of experience in direct communication with teens we have developed this list of characteristics of depressed, suicidal and self-harming teens:

  • They are intelligent. They question things. They want real answers. Too many times, though, they do not get answers which satisfy them.
  • They are sensitive. They care about others. They take on the pain from others.
  • They feel overly responsible for other people's feelings. They feel guilty for things which are not actually their fault.
  • They are full of thoughts. They are full of fears. They feel trapped in their thoughts and fears. They lay awake at night trying to figure things out.
  • They are repeatedly invalidated. They have learned to lie about their feelings.
  • They have no one with whom they can be totally honest, including emotionally honest.
  • They are emotionally intense. Sometimes demanding and insistent. They are persistent. When their needs aren't met they later become "obsessive." Then they get judged, labeled, and criticized for this.
  • They are afraid. Afraid of their parents, teachers, police, mental health professionals and peers. They are living in fear.
  • They see through false people. They see hypocrisy. They see injustice and are troubled by it more than most of us are.
  • They feel controlled. They need more freedom than their peers but their parents give them less. (Or, less often, sometimes their parents don't care enough to control them sufficiently.)
  • They need more caring, understanding, emotional support and acceptance, but their parents give them less.
  • They blame themselves for things that aren't their fault
  • Their parents are not forgiving so they are not self-forgiving either. Even when others forgive them, they can't forgive themselves.

Note: We put the emphasis on the parents failing to meet their emotional needs. We realize they also need acceptance from their peers, teachers etc. We believe, though, that parents can offer protection from this rejection.

Initially this was just a theory, but then we met a young adult who provided support for this belief. She reported that she was always rejected by her classmates because she was so different. For one thing her parents moved from one country to another frequently so she did not share the same language and culture and dress.

But she always knew that when she got home she could talk about things. At home she felt safe. This person is now one of the most self-confident, open-minded and content people you could find.

See also this list of Common characteristics in the home environments of suicidal teens

Suicidal Feelings and Unmet Emotional Needs

One of our beliefs is that when anyone is feeling depressed, self-destructive and suicidal they have a wide variety of unmet emotional needs.

We have polled depressed adolescents to see if we could find support for this belief. The data does in fact strongly suggest the hypothesis. For example, we ask teens how much of the top ten emotional needs they feel. Their answers show without any doubt that their emotional needs are not being met.

A teen might answer, for example:

Accepted - 2
Admired - 0
Appreciated - 1
Cared about - 1
Understood - 0

Here is a more complete example.

As far as I know, no such research has ever been collected before. It is my hope that these ideas will inspire some formal academic research in the future.


Self-Harm and Society

Around the world, self-injury such as cutting and suicide is on the rise. Because of what I learned online, I have also made it a point to talk to people about suicide whenever I can. I have been surprised how many people have once felt suicidal. It is far more than I would have guessed before I started asking.

This suggests to me that there are problems with society itself rather than just with individual families. In particular, I believe we are failing to meet the emotional needs of these adolescents. The young adults I have talked to all have had enough to eat and a place to sleep. Their families are well-off enough to have computers in their homes, yet still, the teens are depressed and suicidal. Some families are extremely wealthy, in fact. Yet something is missing.

The more I talk to these emotionally sensitive people, the more I believe in my theories about the unmet emotional needs in society and the more I believe in the importance of emotionally competent parents. I believe, by the way that much of what I would call emotional competency can be learned. It is much different than a person's innate level of emotional intelligence for reasons I discuss elsewhere. (See for example the history and definition of EI)

The problem, I believe is that the basic emotional needs of these teens are not being met. Another problem seems to be what scientists are now calling "Alexithymia." This basically means a person is unable to express their emotions with words. We don't teach students in school how to identify and label their feelings. In some schools this is changing with in programs that are often called "SEL" programs - Social and Emotional Learning. But these are very recent programs and not many schools even address the issue of feelings. Few schools in the entire world are teaching about emotional invalidation, for example, one thing which is present in all suicidal cases I have ever worked with. Schools simply are not prepared to deal with these kinds of things. And because of that, teens are dying around the world. Schools could be a place where a teen gets help, but often a suicidal teen feels even worse after a day at school. They are told to cheer up, smile, stop being so self-centered, stop looking so sad, be more outgoing, join more clubs, get involved in more activities, try out for cheerleading.

They are given all kinds of unhelpful advice. But they are rarely listened to.

Society as a whole does not place much value on emotions. Hopefully, with the interest in emotional intelligence and related research, this situation will begin to change in a healthier direction.

S. Hein



Milli, Darren, and the "Mental Disease" Myth"

Teen Suicide, Education and Emotional, Psychological Needs

Home environment common characteristics

Quote from 27year old who tried to kill herself as a teen:

A lot of families say there is no answer out there, or they couldn't have possibly known what was going thru their child's mind when they committed suicide.

I'd like to challenge that by saying the answers are there. Quite often the answers are right in front of you. You've got to be willing to look at yourself and how you relate to your child; not just look at your child's life.

And the answers are there... but they are not always the answers you want.

Nicky Cruz Citation - Lonely but never alone, p. 31  

Teens who cut don't feel good about themselves.

They have a very low self-image.

They don't like themselves or sometimes they hate themselves.

Incest Victim Who Wasn't Believed by Her Mother

This letter is from an adult who was suicidal in her teens:

I was a victim of incest. I did not tell my mother, but a friend did, several years later. She did not believe me. In a way I didn't expect her to so that fact did not affect me much. She is not an honest person. That is why she was not able to see I was telling the truth.

I think that what hurt me the most what that I felt my mom didn't know who I was all those years. I sold her a pretend personality and she bought it. I could fake smile at her and she accepted it as real happiness.