How do Suicidal Thoughts In Children?
November 28, 2023

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

Age and Suicidal Thoughts

Suicide rates in America are the highest they’ve been in 50 years. According to the CDC, suicide rates were significantly higher in 2017 compared to 1999 among females ages 10 to 14 (1.7 and 0.5, respectively) and 15 to 24 (5.8 and 3.0) and males ages 10 to 14 (3.3 and 1.9, respectively) and 15 to 24 (22.7 and 16.8). In 2017, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 14.46.

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.

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 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:

  • 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.

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.

  • 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

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. Common sense tells you to 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.

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.

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