Adolescent girls are the most frequent suicide attempters worldwide. However, there is little knowledge about pathways leading to suicidal behaviour among young people, in particular in low-income countries. This study explores the motives and processes related to suicidal behaviour among young girls in Nicaragua. Individual in-depth interviews were conducted with eight girls aged between 12 and 19 admitted to hospital after attempting suicide. The audio-taped interviews lasted 2–4 h and were transcribed, translated into English and coded for content. Grounded theory and content analysis were used to construct a theory of the mechanisms behind their suicidal behaviour.A tentative model exploring pathways to suicidal behaviour is described with four main categories: structuring conditions, triggering events, emotions and actions taken. The model illustrates the dialectic interplay between structure and actions taken. Actions taken were categorized as problem solving or various forms of escape where failure with either of these strategies resulted in a suicide attempt.Dysfunctional families, absent fathers and lack of integration into society were some of the structuring conditions that lead to emotional distress. Abuse, deaths in the family, break-up with boyfriends or suicide among friends acted as triggering events. A striking finding was the obvious narrative competence of the girls.Our findings indicate that suicide prevention programmes for young people must offer support from professionals, independent of their family and social networks. Institutions in the community in contact with young people with suicidal behaviour must develop communicative skills to offer a trusting environment mobilising the resources that young people have.