Unfortunately, suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of killing oneself, may accompany depression in some children.
Suicidal thoughts, or ideations, may not always be completely obvious to others. Instead, they may manifest though interest in and/or preoccupation with suicide or death.
While not all children who are depressed have suicidal thoughts, depression is considered a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Additionally, suicidal thoughts do not always lead to suicide attempts, but are thought to increase a child's risk.
A child with suicidal thoughts may not directly talk about her thoughts. Instead, they may come out in themes of clothing, media interests, writing, or identifying with others who have similar interests.
Sometimes a child will directly talk about wanting to "die" or "kill herself." She might speak indirectly about wanting "to make it all go away" or "the world would be a better place without me", etc.
However, sometimes there are few signs of suicidal thoughts, and this may be a function of your child's personality. A shyer or more withdrawn child may have less obvious signs, whereas an impulsive or more attention-seeking child may be more overt about her feelings.
What To Do If Your Child Is Having Suicidal Thoughts
As mentioned before, a child's thoughts may not always be obvious, which is why seeking treatment for your child's depression is so important. A trained mental health provider may be able to pick up on subtle cues of suicidal thoughts by talking to your child, evaluating psychological tests, and assessing individual risk factors, like previous suicide attempts and severity of depression.
Additionally, treatment for depression will likely help to decrease your child's suicidal thoughts, if she is having them.
If you are concerned, directly ask your child if she is thinking about suicide -- this will not give her ideas. If there are any safety concerns, do not provide judgment or discipline; simply remove her from immediate danger, do not leave her alone, and get her urgent help.
Never dismiss a child's suicidal thoughts, and never promise to keep them a secret.
Any suicidal thoughts or behaviors should be brought to the attention of your child's pediatrician or mental health provider immediately. If needed, bring the child to an emergency room or call an ambulance.
Suicidal thoughts should be taken very seriously. It should never be assumed that your child is only seeking attention. Trust your instincts when it comes to your child -- you know her better than anyone.
Andrea Cohn, NCSP. Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators. NASP Communique. December, 2006. 35(4).
David C. R. Kerr, Ph.D., Lee D. Owen, B.S., Katherine C. Pears, Ph.D., and Deborah M. Capaldi, Ph.D. "Prevalence of Suicidal Ideation Among Boys and Men Assessed Annually from Ages 9 to 29 Years." Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. August 2008 38(4): 390-401.
National Association of School Psychologists. Times of Tragedy: Preventing Suicide in Troubled Children and Youth, Part I. Tips for Parents and Schools. Accessed: April 12, 2011. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/suicidept1_general.aspx