Suicidal Thoughts in Children

Suicidal thoughts and behavior may be a symptom of childhood depression

A young girl suffering from depression.
A young girl suffering from depression. Blend Images - KidStock/Getty Images

Knowing youth suicide facts is especially important for parents of children with depression. For parents, suicidal thoughts and behaviors are one of the most alarming concerns of childhood depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), death by suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds, and many more children attempt but do not complete suicide.

Age and Suicidal Thoughts

According to the CDC's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQRS), there were no deaths by suicide in the United States among children under age 5 between 2008 and 2014. However, rates of suicide deaths increased to 0.03 percent for 5- to 9-year-olds, and 1.48 percent for 10- to 14-year-olds in that same time period.

Typically, rates of suicide increase with age, peaking in late adolescence. Girls more often attempt suicide, but boys more frequently follow through to completion.

Suicidal Thoughts and Depression

According to one study, suicidal thoughts are linked to a worse course of depression, the symptoms of which include earlier onset, longer duration, and shorter intervals of remission.

It's important to know that not all depressed children will have suicidal thoughts or behavior. In fact, it's one of the least common symptoms of childhood depression.

Also, not all children with suicidal thoughts and behavior are depressed.

Perhaps most comforting to know, not all children who have suicidal thoughts will attempt suicide. However, it's a good predictor for future attempts, and these children always need to be evaluated by a professional.

Warning Signs of Suicide

Some important warning signs of suicidal behavior in children are:

  • Reckless behavior
  • Frequent statements of self-harm
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Expressions of hopelessness about the future
  • Giving away things of importance

Risk Factors

Some risk factors that may contribute to a child's risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior include:

  • A family history of suicide, depression, or other mental illness
  • Loss of a close family member, friend, or classmate by suicide or other sudden death
  • Threats or violence from peers
  • Previous history of depression or other mental health illness
  • Previous suicide attempts

How to Help Your Child

Here are some strategies to help your child if you think he or she is having suicidal thoughts:

  • Be aware. While rare in young children, suicide is possible. Know the warning signs and risk factors that may increase your child's risk of suicide.
  • Talk to your child. Talking about suicide will not give your child the idea to attempt suicide. If a friend or other loved one has died, committed suicide, or is extremely ill, talk to your child about it and address his or her feelings.
  • Tell others. If your child exhibits suicidal thoughts or behaviors, tell his or her other caretakers and faculty members at school so they can closely monitor him or her when you're not around.
  • Keep weapons locked up. Common sense tells you to keep weapons, medications, alcohol, and poisons safely away from children, but this is especially important for children at risk for suicide.
  • Get your child treatment. If your child is depressed or at high risk for depression or another mental illness, it's essential to get him or her treatment.

When to Get Immediate Help

It's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your child's well-being. If you think that your child is in crisis and he or she has had a previous suicide attempt, is threatening to harm herself, or you just have a "gut feeling," get your child help immediately.

Do not wait. If needed, take your child to a pediatric emergency room.

Having a child who is depressed or is suicidal does not make you a bad parent or mean that you did anything to cause her pain. The best thing you can do is to get your child help and support her in her recovery.

*If your child or someone else you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Sources:

American Association of Suicidology. Warning Signs and Risk Factors. 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fatal Injury Mapping. Updated August 7, 2013.

Kerr DCR, Owen LD, Pears KC, Capaldi DM. Prevalence of Suicidal Ideation Among Boys and Men Assessed Annually from Ages 9 to 29 YearsSuicide & life-threatening behavior. 2008;38(4):390-402. doi:10.1521/suli.2008.38.4.390.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Suicide.