Suicidal thoughts and behavior are one of the most alarming symptoms of childhood depression. Death by suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Not all children who are depressed have suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and not all children who are suicidal are also depressed. However, symptoms associated with depression, like feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, loneliness, and withdrawal from friends and family, are linked to an increased risk for suicidal feelings and behavior.
What Are the Signs of Suicide?
Five important warning signs of suicide in children to watch out for are:
- Suicidal Talk - A suicidal child may talk about wanting to die, or that the world would be better off with out her.
- Interest in Lethal Means or Death - A suicidal child may become suddenly interested in guns, weapons, pills, other lethal means, or death, which may be evident in her everyday talk, television or reading interests, internet searches, or even as themes in clothing, art work or school work.
- Sudden Pattern or Habit Changes - A child may suddenly withdraw from friends and family; have significant changes to her sleeping and eating patterns; or have a noticeable decline in her personal appearance or hygiene habits.
- Final Arrangements - A child might be preparing for suicide by drafting final notes, final instructions, or giving away her favorite personal belongings.
- Having a Plan - A child serious about attempting suicide may have a well-thought-out plan of action, including a method, access to the lethal means, and opportunity to act on her plan.
When to Get Help
If your child is depressed or has made previous suicide attempts and is showing any warning signs of suicide, or you just have a "feeling" that something is not right, seek immediate medical attention. This may be an emergency meeting with your child's pediatrician, psychiatrist, or other mental health provider; going to an emergency room; or calling an ambulance.
If you have reason to believe that your child intends to harm herself, do not leave her alone until emergency help has been sought. If she is in school, notify faculty of your concerns so she can remained supervised at all times.
It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your child. Being aware of the signs of suicide in children, and taking appropriate action when needed, may help to protect your child.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), and can provide immediate information on suicide in children.
Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics (WISQARS). Centers for Disease Control. Accessed: August 16, 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html
Knowing The Warning Signs. American Association of Suicidology. Accessed: August 15, 2010. http://www.suicidology.org/web/guest/stats-and-tools/warning-signs
Times of Tragedy: Preventing Suicide in Troubled Children and Youth, Part I. Tips for Parents and Schools.National Association of School Psychologists. Accessed: April 12, 2011. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/suicidept1_general.aspx