Each year, approximately 1 in every 15 high school students will attempt suicide. Younger children experience suicidality too. Research shows that 12% of children between the ages 6 and 12 have suicidal thoughts.
What Is Suicide?
Suicide is when a person causes his or her own death on purpose. Before attempting to take his or her own life, a person may have thoughts of wanting to die. This is called suicidal ideation. He or she may also have suicidal behavior. That is when a person is actively making plans to do or doing things that may cause his or her own death.
Who Is at Risk for Suicide & Suicide Attempts?
There are many risk factors for suicide. The list below covers many but not all of them. These factors may combine or build up to a crisis that increases the risk for suicidal behavior.
- Mental illness or psychiatric diagnosis
- Family history of suicide and/or exposure to suicide
- Family history of mental illness
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Aggressive behavior/impulsivity
- Lack of social support/social isolation
- Poor coping skills
- Access to ways of harming oneself, like guns, knives, medications or others
- Dealing with sexual orientation or gender identity in an unsupportive or hostile family, school, social or online environment
- Physical illness
- Traumatic events
What Are Signs That a Young Person Is at Risk for Suicide?
The primary symptom of suicide is talking about suicide or doing something to try to harm oneself. If your child expresses suicidal thoughts or exhibits self-harming behaviors, seek professional help.
- Preoccupation with death (such as repeated themes of death in artwork or written assignments)
- Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
- Not caring about activities that used to matter
- Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
- Substance abuse
- Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
- Giving away possessions
- Risky behavior
- Lack of energy
- Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
- Declining school performance/increased absences from school
- Increased irritability
- Changes in appetite
The risk of suicide increases dramatically when children or teenagers have access to firearms at home. Nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. Any gun in your home should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens.
Medication overdose using over-the-counter, prescription, and non-prescription medicine is a very common method for suicide. It's important to carefully monitor all medications in your home.
What Can Parents Do?
Try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your child confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. It is important not to minimize or discount what your child is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
- Talk to your children and try to understand their feelings.
- Listen when children want to talk, and take them seriously.
- Trust your instincts. If you sense something is wrong, ask your child directly about your suspicion.
- Do not dismiss disruptive behavior as attention-seeking. Wonder with your child about what might be behind it.
- Do not discount your child's negative feelings. Saying "You shouldn't feel that way" or “Don’t say such a thing” may cause your child to shut down and not come to you for help.
- Do not let fear make you silent. Talk to your child.
- Ask questions. Some people fear that asking about suicide will plant the idea of suicide into a child’s mind. This is not true.
- Sometimes children or adolescents who are thinking about suicide won’t tell you because they are worried how you will react. Your calm, non-judgmental questions can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
If your child doesn't feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as a relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child's doctor.
If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital's department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. In an emergency, you can call 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255).
If your child is in a crisis situation, your local emergency room can conduct a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and refer you to the appropriate resources. If you are unsure about whether you should bring your child to the emergency room, contact your doctor or call 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) for help.
If you have scheduled an appointment with a mental health professional, keep the appointment, even if your teen says he or she is feeling better or doesn't want to go. Suicidal thoughts tend to come and go; however, it is important that your teen get help developing the skills needed to decrease the likelihood that suicidal thoughts and behaviors will emerge again if a crisis arises.
Ongoing conflicts between a parent and child can worsen things for a teen who is feeling isolated, misunderstood, or suicidal. Get help to discuss family problems and resolve them in a constructive way.
What Helps to Protect Children & Teenagers from Suicide?
Young people may be experiencing depression or stress but be at less risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors when they also have:
- Individual characteristics:
- Coping skills
- Spiritual faith or cultural connectedness
- Family support
- School support
- Positive experiences and relationships at school
- Sense of respect
- Mental health care
- Access to care
- Therapeutic relationship
- Restricted access to means
- Limited access to firearms, medications, alcohol
How Are Suicidal Thoughts & Behaviors Treated?
Children and adolescents with suicidal thoughts or behaviors should have an evaluation with a health professional who can assess their level of risk and the appropriate type of treatment.
For children or adolescents who are at risk for immediate harm to themselves, the initial treatment is usually inpatient psychiatric care. Inpatient psychiatric treatment is focused on ensuring safety, intensive work on coping skills, and developing a plan for continuing care.
Outpatient treatment for children and adolescents with suicidal thoughts or behaviors may include psychotherapy that addresses any of the factors that contribute to the person’s distress, and to develop skills that can help them manage distress.
Outpatient treatment for children and adolescents with suicidal thoughts or behaviors may also include medication to treat underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors?
With the right help, a child who is suicidal can make a full recovery and live a fully productive life.
If you’d like to request an appointment with one of our specialists, call 1.800.543.7362 (1.800.KIDS DOC®). You can also request an appointment online.