Why Teen Suicide Spreads: The Copycat Risk

Memorials and mourning can seem like a glorification of the act of taking one's own life

According to the American Association of Suicidology, each year, there are approximately 10 youth suicides for every 100,000 youth. Each day, there are approximately 12 youth suicides. Every 2 hours and 11 minutes, a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.

However, there is a particularly high risk in the community where the suicide has occurred that further suicides are more likely, a phenomenon sometimes called copycat suicide. 

A person who has been contemplating suicide or planning suicide might be encouraged to take this last step, or find the memorials or publicly expressed mourning to seem as if it’s a glorification of the act.  It might seem that the suicide that occurred was an act of bravery that the onlooker might want to emulate if they were already preoccupied this way. 

For parents and educators though, a suicide in the community should be a call to compassion and thoughtful action. In the short term, hre is some advice.


  • Share your feelings with your child.
  • Let your child know that you are very disturbed by the suicide.
  • Let them tell you, if they are willing and able, how they have reacted. 
  • Recollect your child’s recent behavioral pattern and see if the warning signs apply and whether their comments at this point are worthy of further discussion, even professional evaluation.
  • Understand that the risk of suicide has been raised by another person’s suicide.
  • Listen to them.  Tell them you’re there, ready to listen, to talk when necessary and that you care. 
  • Ask your child if they have thought of suicide.
  • Identify your local suicide Hotline, save the number and give it to your child.


  • Activate your crisis plan.
  • Bring the counseling staff into the classrooms with teachers.
  • Let the students know about the suicide, and then let them start the process of grieving.
  • If a student shows concerning behavior, make sure that there is a follow-up plan for them. Let their parents know about your concern.

Bruce Bienenstock, M.D.is a consulting psychiatrist for Adolescent Counseling Services. He participated in the Adolescent Counseling Services’ forum last night at the Cubberley Theatre, "Breaking the Stigma: Adolescent Depression."

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