How to Talk to Your Child About Suicide: Signs Your Child May be at Risk

Wellness Update

Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), rates of suicide attempts and deaths among children have increased in the US over the past decade? Suicide is now the 8th leading cause of death in children aged 5 to11 and the 3rd leading cause in young people aged 15 to 24.

Here are a few more important statistics on suicide from the CDC:

  • Boys are 4 times more likely to die from suicide than girls
  • Girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys
  • Guns are used in more than half of youth suicides


What Parents Should Know about Suicide:

There is a difference between passive suicidal ideation - having waxing and waning thoughts about suicide - and having specific thoughts, which would be considered active suicidal ideation. 

Passive suicidal ideation occurs when someone thinks about dying, but doesn’t have any plans to end their own life.

Active suicidal ideation, on the other hand, is not only thinking about it, but having the intent or a plan to take their own life. This is when immediate action needs to be taken. 

Either passive or active, suicidal ideation is a cry for help! Always take such statements, thoughts, behaviors or plans very seriously. Any child who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated right away. Talk with your child’s health care provider. 

 

What are Risk Factors?

  • Having a psychiatric disorder, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or oppositional defiant disorder
  • Family history of mood disorders, suicide or suicidal behavior
  • History of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence or bullying
  • A substance use disorder, such as drugs, tobacco, or alcohol
  • Access to means, such as firearms or medications
  • Belonging to a sexual minority group – someone whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority of their surrounding society. Generally, someone who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Warning Signs:

The behaviors listed below are signs that someone may be thinking about suicide.

  • Talking about wanting to die, feeling great guilt or shame, or being a burden to others.
  • Feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live.
  • Experiencing extreme sadness, anxiety, agitation or rage.
  • Holding unbearable emotional or physical pain.
  • Expressing behaviors such as making a plan or researching ways to die, withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items, or making a will.
  • Taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Eating or sleeping more or less frequently.
  • Using drugs or alcohol more often.

 

The Key to Preventing Suicide:

One of the greatest myths about suicide is that talking about it will encourage it. Whether it is suicide, drugs, sex, self-harm, drinking or any other dangerous behavior, the more we demystify it, the less likely our children are to participate in it. 

If you have any suspicions that your child may be struggling, ask your child if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. This will not put the idea in their head or make them more likely to attempt suicide. Keep Talking!

I know this is scary, but the more you discuss it, the more you affirm your child’s feelings. Facing the situation head on reduces the likelihood of your child making an attempt on his/her own life. 

If, for whatever reason, you are unable to talk about it, find someone else who can. Past experiences or our own embarrassment may get in our way, and that’s okay. Just keep encouraging your child to talk to someone in a safe environment. 

Set up a system to help yourself and your child communicate when they are in need of help. For example, using a number scale can give you a better idea of how they are feeling. Zero to two means “I’m fine,” three to four means “I need help; don’t leave me alone,” and five is code red: “I need immediate help; take me to the hospital.” This number system can allow your child to have a mechanism to assess themselves and provide feedback without feeling intrusive. 

Don’t be afraid to consider inpatient treatment centers. This the first thing that would be recommended for any child having specific suicidal thoughts. Take your child to the emergency room for evaluation and possible admission to a facility that can provide treatment until they are stable and safe to return home. Doctors and trained professionals will work with you to plan a safe return home with your child. 

Seek out professional mental health help. Find a therapist to talk to and discuss issues with who makes you and your family feel at ease. A parent can feel a lot of guilt when their child expresses a desire to take their own life. Consider your own support and self-care during this time. 

 

For more information, go to www.nimh.nih.gov.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741

 

For more support, consider this book list that can help you and your teen through difficult situations:

Book List





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