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Suicide in Children and Teens

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KEY POINTS

  • Children are more likely to think of suicide if they suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or abuse alcohol or drugs. Stressful events can also trigger thoughts of suicide. Children and teens are more likely to kill themselves on impulse compared to adults.
  • Many of those who attempt suicide try it again. No matter how awful problems seem, remind your child that they can be worked out. Feelings and thoughts are temporary and will pass.
  • Ask your child if he or she is thinking about suicide. If your child is thinking of suicide, call the Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or get emergency care.

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Suicide is the act of taking one's own life. It is one of the most common causes of death in children from ages 10 to 19. Girls attempt suicide more often than boys do. Girls are more likely to try to kill themselves by overdosing on drugs or cutting their wrists. Boys are much more likely to actually kill themselves. Boys most often try to kill themselves using guns, hanging, or jumping.

Guns are the most common and fastest-growing method of suicide in the US. Having a gun in the house increases the risk that a young person will commit suicide. An upset child or teen may impulsively use a firearm. Using a gun increases the chances that a suicide attempt will be fatal. Other methods are more likely to allow time for second thoughts and getting medical help.

Who is at risk?

Children are more likely to think of suicide if they suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder, or if they abuse alcohol or drugs. Stressful events such as getting into trouble at school or with police can trigger thoughts of suicide. Children and teens are more likely to kill themselves on impulse than adults are. Your child is at higher risk for committing suicide if your child:

  • Knows other people who have committed suicide, especially family members
  • Has tried suicide before
  • Is often angry, easily upset, resentful, and violent
  • Has relationship problems such as breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, fighting with friends, or being bullied
  • Has little communication with parents, or has parents who have divorced or recently remarried
  • Is gay, bisexual, or transgender
  • Has a history of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence or other injuries
  • Uses the internet more than 5 hours per day

What are the signs of suicidal feelings?

Signs that your child is depressed and thinking of suicide may include:

  • Acting sad and uninterested in things that were once enjoyed
  • Having trouble falling asleep, waking up very early, or sleeping too much
  • Having changes in appetite and weight, either up or down
  • Not having much energy
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, or just not caring about anything
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember things and letting the quality of his or her schoolwork go down
  • Doing risky things like driving too fast or recklessly
  • Talking about death and violence
  • Getting very moody, irritable, violent, rebellious, or withdrawn
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol, driving too fast, or other risky behaviors
  • Talking or joking about suicide or writing notes or poems about death
  • Giving away prized possessions or throwing away important belongings
  • Knowing how and where he or she would commit suicide

How is it treated?

If you notice feelings or actions that are unusual, such as losing interest in things, getting very depressed, or talking about suicide, call a mental health professional. Someone who is thinking of suicide can be successfully treated with medicine, therapy, or both.

Medicine

Several types of medicines can help. Your child’s healthcare provider will work with you to select the best medicine. Your child may need to take more than one type of medicine.

Therapy

Seeing a mental health therapist is helpful.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps your child identify and change thought processes. Replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones can help.
  • Family therapy is often very helpful. Family therapy treats all members of the family rather than working with one person alone. It helps the whole family to make changes.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy helps your child be aware of his or her thoughts and behavior, learn how to express needs, deal with stressful situations, and manage emotions.

Safety plan

A suicide safety plan can help your child stay safe and get help when needed. A safety plan includes:

  • Reasons for living
  • What to do to feel calm and comforted
  • Ways to avoid feeling worse
  • Who to call for help

The best time to work on the safety plan is when your child is feeling calmer and not suicidal. Keep the written safety plan in a place where you can easily find it when it's needed. You can also download an app for your smartphone or tablet.

What can I do to help my child?

If your child has attempted suicide call 911 right away.

Ask your child if he or she is thinking about suicide. You will not cause suicide by talking about it. You show that you care when you ask. If your child talks about death or mentions suicide, do not get mad or pass judgment. Get professional help.

Remind your child that you love and accept your child, and let your child know that you want to help your child find healthier ways to deal with feelings. Remind your child that no matter how awful problems seem, they can be worked out, and that you are willing to help.

Often a child gives clues that he or she is going to commit suicide. Most children do NOT hurt themselves or fake suicide just to get attention. Talking about suicide is a cry for help. If your child ever tells you he or she is planning to commit suicide, take it seriously.

If you think your child is suicidal, remove or lock up weapons in your home including guns, pills, and poisons. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or get emergency care.

Your child may need to be treated until the risk of committing suicide has passed. Many of those who attempt suicide try it again within the next year.

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-10-09
Last reviewed: 2019-06-25
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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