Teen Suicide: The Role of Family Dynamics & Health Issues

The first place we feel love or acceptance or hatred and a lack of acceptance is in the family. Teens are especially impacted by family dynamics.

The one place of connection that has the potential to be most stable for all children, teens, and adults alike is the family environment. The first place we feel love or acceptance or hatred and a lack of acceptance is in the family. We learn who we are, if we are valuable or not, all through how we are raised. When the home environment isn’t healthy, neither can a child be all that healthy. Let’s talk about teen suicide.

All children and teenagers require different things from their home environment, therefore, it is the task of each parent to see each of their children as unique, with unique needs that differ from their other children and to do their best to meet those individualized needs. Sometimes parents feel completely attuned to their teens, but have no idea their teen is suffering. Sometimes there is nothing a parent can know to do differently. Therefore, parents need to do their very best to nurture the life of the person they chose to bring into the world. Sadly, there are too many families who just aren’t healthy enough to succeed.

Family Dynamics Known to Lead to Teen Suicide:

Emotional Neglect

With the majority of homes having two parents working in full time careers, parents may be so involved in their own lives they erroneously give too much trust to their teenage children to raise themselves and be responsible. This type of neglect is not only physical, but more so emotional. When parents give too much freedom, too many gifts in lei of parenting, the teen becomes undisciplined, entitled and feels forgotten about and alone. They may not feel the significance of their existence in the lives of others, especially their parents, to whom they should be nothing less than loved, adored and guided with attention and discipline.

Emotional neglect leads teens to underestimate their value. If they do not see they make any real difference in the lives of their parents it will be nearly impossible for them to see they will hold any real significance with anyone else, especially their all-important peers. The absolute worst feeling a human being can experience is to feel they don’t exist.

Neglectful parents are as shocked as all others when or if their teen attempts or commits suicide because they may feel they gave them everything they could financially and allowed them freedoms. The lesson here is that what teens need and crave more than anything is love and discipline from their parents.


Children and teenagers have the general tendency to personalize that they are the cause of everything going wrong in the life of loved ones, even if they are being told differently. When parents are divorcing teens may conclude that are they are cause of the stress whether they are told this directly or not. The thought which permeates their mind is “if I were good enough my parents would work harder to stay together,” or “mom or dad wouldn’t have left if I had been an easier kid.”

Divorcing parents can be some of the most self-centered immature people in existence. People who divorce are often more cruel to each other than prison inmates. Kids become collateral, they try and alienate the kids from the other parent and there is little to no stability. Because teens have a general tendency to believe they are the cause of everything going wrong in life, when parents are divorcing teens sometimes conclude they are the cause of the stress between their parents. Thus, in taking their life they assume their parents will be happy or happier without them around.

All divorcing parents would hate to have their divorce and their immature acting-out lead their teen into committing suicide. The most important thing for a parent to remember is that the divorce needs to be to the benefit of all involved, especially and most importantly, their children. Divorcing parents need to divorce each other, not their children.

Domestic Abuse

A harsh reality is that there are many teens who are victims of domestic abuse. Over the years they have been physically and/or mentally abused by one or more of their family members. Abuse of any kind has long lasting damaging effects, as it eats away at their trust in life, the development of their self-worth, their trust in themselves and in their trust in others.

If the teen is not the direct victim of the abuse, they may be witnessing acts of domestic violence, which has an equally damaging effect on them. It is common for abusers to blame the teen for whatever may be wrong – big or small in the household making the teen feel shamed for being alive. Believing that they are the cause of every problem in their family can be very demeaning for a teen.

While some growing up in these circumstances overcome them and build healthy adult lives, some go on to repeat their abusive upbringing by experiencing more violence from their spouses in the future. Others sometimes decide to end their lives under the belief no good can ever come from their existence.

Mental & Physical Health Issues

Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other disorders cause the brain to function differently than healthy teens and these disorders lead to thoughts which may eventually result in suicide. A lot of teens with mental health issues don’t feel they fit in and feel like complete outcasts. They live is an isolated world full of frustration with themselves that they cannot be normal and have trouble relating to their same aged peers. Mental disorders need to be detected early on, but sometimes even that doesn’t work. It is heartbreaking to watch and parents are often powerless.

Physical health issues are a less common reason for teen suicide but nonetheless an important topic. When a teen is diabetic, cancer stricken, or any other assortment of physical illness that may afflict their lives such as a physical abnormality, disability or something which makes their appearance different than others has a huge impact on their self-worth. Teens all need and want to fit in and be the same as their peers. To feel drastically different due to a physical abnormality or illness can bring a sense of hopelessness to a teen where they cannot fathom living the rest of their life in the way they are living it now. No matter how much you try and normalize their lives to them, teens who are suffering from something physical or mental often feel trapped in a body they cannot fix and they choose to end their lives as they see no happiness ahead for them.

No matter the issue, teen suicide is a prevalent problem and the worst possible fear for all healthy parents. The most important place of comfort for any teen needs to be the home.

If you are a hard working parent make sure not to neglect your teenagers and assume they are fine. Always keep that connection to them emotionally so you can more deeply know what is happening inside them.

If there is domestic violence, you must get out and break that pattern. At all costs protect your children. With physical and mental health issues, get your teen into a support group, a church group, embrace them in the family and provide whatever love and understanding you can to help them to understand that it is who they are, not what they look like that is valuable. If they suffer from mental illness problems, be as educated as you can and get whatever help is available to love your child into the highest levels of wellness and purpose they can achieve.

Published on: April 04, 2015
About the Author
Photo of Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell, PhD is a licensed Psychologist providing counseling and psychotherapy services to residents of Southern California. Dr. Campbell specializes in psychotherapy with adults and teenagers. She is also the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person.

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At the age of 17 my 22 year old brother took his own life by hanging himself. I am thankful that I was the one to find him. I have found it in a way to finding and bringing closure and understanding of why he would have done such an act. As you know complete closure is something we never get. From the day my parents were notified I have always felt that in some way they blamed me. I have never personally felt that way toward myself. The night before the funeral I wrote him a letter and placed it inside his pocket. I have always felt like our relationship and the events of his death was ok and that I understand why he took his own life. I’ll always be great full that I did that for myself and him. My father was an alcoholic and mentally abusive to everyone in the family. His genuine involvement in the family was non existent. My mother lived in a constant state of denial since she was numb by the time of his death. Through the years both my parents and even older sister have distanced themselves from me. Now at 46 with a wife of 19 years and two wonderful daughters I have closed the door for any relationship between us. The hatred, insults, and overall failure to not move beyond that day for them has resulted in such. I wish I could understand the way they feel but have always been assaulted for asking. I love my brother and always will. The challenge he gave me has been a daunting one but I am determined to be a better parent, husband and person for it. I Love You!!

Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad you have found a measure of closure and turned this tragedy into a determination to be a better husband and father.