Suicidal Thoughts in Children

A young girl struggling with depression.

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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 third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds, and many more children attempt but do not complete suicide.

Age and Suicidal Thoughts

The CDC reports that suicide rates in America reached their highest in 50 years in 2018, before declining in 2019 and 2020. Youth and young adults between the ages 10 to 24 had a suicide rate of 14%. According to the CDC, in 2020, suicide rates were for different age groups were:

  • Girls ages 10 to 14 (2.01 per 100,000)
  • Girls ages 15 to 24 (5.78 per 100,000)
  • Boys ages 10 to 14 (3.56 per 100,000)
  • Boys ages 15 to 24 (22.36 per 100,000)

A 2018 study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that the suicide rate among Black children under 13 years is double the rate for white children in the same age group. This accounts for both girls and boys.

While suicide in very young children is less-researched, evidence suggests that suicidal thinking can emerge as early as age nine. One study found that 2.4% to 6.2% of 9- and 10-year-olds reported having suicidal thoughts, with 0.9% of children in that age group attempting suicide.

However, among 9- and 10-year-olds, suicide remains relatively rare. According to mortality statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 45 suicides among children under the age of 10 in 2020. 

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 show suicidal 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 the 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.

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Warning Signs of Suicide

Some important warning signs of suicidal behavior in children are:

  • Aggressive or hostile behavior
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • A change in personality (from upbeat to quiet)
  • Declining interest in friends, activities, or hobbies previously enjoyed
  • Expressions of hopelessness about the future, like "You won't have to worry about me anymore"
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or self-hatred
  • Frequent statements or social media posts about self-harm or suicide, like "I wish I were dead"
  • Giving away things of importance
  • Neglecting personal appearance or grooming
  • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, or drawing
  • Reckless or risk-taking behavior (such as substance use, reckless driving, and sexual promiscuity)
  • Running away from home
  • Sleep, appetite, or energy changes
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

Risk Factors for Suicide

It's not always easy to detect the risk factors that may contribute to a child's risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. However, recognizing them and getting help can be life-saving. 

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

If you think that your child or someone you care about has some of these factors, consider setting up an appointment with a mental health professional for a suicide-risk assessment. If the adolescent is high-risk, you may need to schedule these assessments on a regular basis,

How to Help Your Child

Here are some strategies to help your child if you think they are 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.
  • Get your child treatment. If your child is depressed or at high risk for depression or another mental illness, it's essential to get them treatment.
  • Keep weapons locked up. Keep weapons, medications, alcohol, and poisons safely away from children, but this is especially important for children at 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 their feelings.
  • Tell others. If your child exhibits suicidal thoughts or behaviors, tell their other caretakers and faculty members at school so they can closely monitor your child when you're not around.
  • Be supportive. Research has found that parental support can help decrease the risk of suicidal thoughts in children.

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 that they have had a previous suicide attempt, is threatening to harm themselves, or you just have a "gut feeling," get your child help immediately.

Don't wait. If needed, take your child to a pediatric emergency room. Do not leave them alone. Remove anything in the house they can possibly use to hurt themselves.

A Word From Verywell

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

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disparities in suicide.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fatal injury reports, national, regional and state, 1981-2020.

  3. Bridge JA, Horowitz LM, Fontanella CA, et al. Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among us youths from 2001 through 2015. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(7):697. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0399

  4. DeVille DC, Whalen D, Breslin FJ, et al. Prevalence and family-related factors associated with suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and self-injury in children aged 9 to 10 years. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(2):e1920956. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20956

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underlying cause of death, 1999-2020 results: Deaths occurring through 2020.

  6. American Association of Suicidology. Warning signs.

  7. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Suicide.

  8. Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. Talking to your kid about suicide.

  9. Kang BH, Kang JH, Park HA, et al. The mediating role of parental support in the relationship between life stress and suicidal ideation among middle school studentsKorean J Fam Med. 2017;38(4):213-219. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2017.38.4.213

By Lauren DiMaria
Lauren DiMaria is a member of the Society of Clinical Research Associates and childhood psychology expert.