The topic of suicide traditionally isn’t one which frequently involves children. It tends to be a serious discussion among adults, and while it’s important to still protect young hearts from heavy topics, it’s equally important to have open and honest conversations with kids when the topic involves them. Tragically, suicide is no longer something only adults struggle with; over the past few years, suicide numbers between the ages of 10 – 24 have increased so drastically that the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have classified it as the second-leading of cause of death in that age group.
The truth is that everyone, but most especially parents, can offer hope and peace to their child by knowing suicide warning signs, talking directly with their child and providing an environment of support and love throughout trying times.
Suicide signs in children to look for
Children who are contemplating suicide will understandably begin to display tendencies and traits out of the ordinary. Things to keep an eye out for may include:
- A preoccupation with death or suicide – This might show up in different ways, often in the television shows and movies they watch, the music they listen to or the social media content they consume. It might manifest in the way they dress or accessorize, or the events they seek to attend, such as certain concerts. Perhaps it will show up in drawings, writings or homework assignments.
- Hopeless comments/talk – Children don’t often bring up suicide directly; rather, they will make indirect comments such as “It would be better if I wasn’t here,” or even, “I wish I were dead.” They might make statements about the future that include a desire to go away or explicitly stating “You won’t have to worry about me anymore.” Don’t take what might seem like passive statements for granted. Because children might not have the mental capacity to clearly understand what it is they’re feeling, their method of processing thoughts will not be as direct.
- Withdrawal or personality shift – A child who was once outgoing and exuberant might become withdrawn and quiet. You might see outbursts from your child, such as sudden bouts of aggression or anger, or behavior motivated by stress or anxiety.
- Disinterest – Additionally, your child might show disinterest in social events, not wanting to be around family or friends. There may be a lack of desire or drive in schoolwork or extracurricular activities, including potential deficiencies in performance or grades.
You know your child better than anyone. If your child begins to display signs of concern to you, trust your gut and get help before the situation escalates beyond your control. In situations such as this, there’s no such thing as being paranoid, only wisely proactive.
Causes of suicide in children
As with any mental health issue, there is no one cause for suicide in children. Common situations which may cause suicidal thoughts include:
- Bullying/cyberbullying, or threat or violence from peers
- Abuse of any kind
- A family history of substance abuse, mental disorders and/or suicide/suicide attempts
- A personal history of substance abuse, mental disorders and/or suicide attempts
- The loss of a peer, friend or mentor/hero such as a celebrity to suicide
It is worth mentioning that just because a child experiences one of these situations, they are not automatically predisposed to suicidal thoughts. For example, just because a child struggles with depression does not automatically mean that they will at some point contemplate suicide. These potential causes are important to be aware of, especially when experienced in conjunction with one or more of the above warning signs.
Talking with your child about suicide
If you suspect suicide is in your child’s mind, don’t just hope it goes away. All too often, parents mistakenly believe that talking with their child about suicide will put the thought in their mind. This is a myth. If you feel it is necessary to talk about suicide with your child, it’s probably because you sense warning signs, which means the idea is already in the child’s head. By bringing it up, you’re showing the child that you’ve heard their cry for help and want to be there for them.
If you need to, ask the child directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” and use the word suicide. Depending on the child’s answer, seek immediate help by taking your child to the emergency room or calling 911. Consider reaching out to a counseling service when the immediate danger has passed.