Suicide in Children & Adolescents, Parent Information
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals age 15-24 and the 8th leading cause of death among all persons. Research indicates that over 60% of all high school students contemplate suicide at some time during the school year and 8-13% of students engage in suicidal behavior. There has been a significant increase in the rate of suicide among 10-14 year olds in recent years, and the incident rates indicate that while females are more likely to attempt suicide, males are more likely to complete suicide due to the use of more lethal means.
General Warning Signs
Children who are contemplating suicide may display one or more warning signs. It is important to be aware of these signs so that interventions can occur. The following is a list of possible warning signs, and while it is not exhaustive, it does represent the most common, frequently occurring signs.
- Talk about committing suicide, making a suicidal threat, or indicating a desire to die
- Having trouble eating or sleeping
- Having drastic changes in behavior, severe mood swings or severe moodiness
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Loss of interest in hobbies, school, work, friends, etc
- Giving away prized possessions
- Having attempted suicide before
- Engaging in risk taking behaviors or demonstrating self-injurious behaviors such as cutting, scratching, or otherwise injuring oneself
- Having had a recent loss (friend, family, loved one, pet, etc.)
- Increased or use of alcohol and/or drugs
- Being preoccupied with death and/or dying (taking about it, drawing pictures, reading, story-telling, journal or other writings, etc.)
- Risk factors associated with suicide
- Loss of significant other, possession, or event
- Recent suicide of a peer or family member
- Legal difficulties
- Unwanted pregnancy, sexual activity
- Bullying or harassment
- Family stress (including divorce, separation, unemployment)
- Recent and/or frequent changes in school
- Difficulties in relationships
- Depression and withdrawal
- Disorientation and isolation, psychiatric disorders
- Substance abuse, easy access to guns, automobiles, etc
- Poor school performance, academic problems, learning disabilities that reduce self-esteem
- Unreasonable expectations, either self-imposed or internally imposed
- Neglect or abuse
- Serious health problems or physical impairment (self or family member)
- Easy access to guns, drugs, automobiles
Unfortunately, children and teenagers often find themselves in what they consider to be an intolerable situation. They become rigid in their thinking and are often unable to see alternatives other than suicide. Often there are prevailing feelings of hopelessness, (that is, the feeling that there is no hope, and that the future looks bleak). With these types of views, and an inability to see alternatives, the child’s only solution becomes a suicide.
What Can I Do As A Parent?
It is important for the parents to be aware of his/her child’s moods, feelings and attitudes. Sudden mood swings or marked changes in behavior, decreasing grades and/or withdrawal from friends often signify the onset of depression. Parents must realize that this is often not just a ‘phase’ that the child is going through, but indications of a problem. Of primary importance in helping these distressed children is letting the child know that no matter what, you are there as a parent to help them, that you care for them, and love them. While you might not be able to heal their pain, resolve their problems, or even understand what they are going through, you must let them know that you are willing to listen and help them in whatever way possible.
- Be aware and learn the warning signs
- Be willing to listen
- Treat feelings and thoughts seriously
- Be non-judgmental
- Be direct, talk openly
- Point out that death is irreversible
- Seek support, contact qualified professionals
- Remove means, such as guns, pills, knives, etc.
As a parent, if you begin to notice signs of depression, or more importantly, signs of suicidal behavior, you should begin by talking with your child. Let them know that you will listen, and that you are not going to judge them. Encourage them to express their feelings and really listen. Try not to criticize or downplay their feelings. At some point, it will become necessary to ask them if they have thought about suicide. You are not putting an idea into their head-the majority of children and adolescents know what suicide is, so you are not giving them any suggestions. If they have seriously thought about suicide, then it is time to seek professional help, either through the school, local mental health agency, private agency, suicide hotlines, or your family physician. If, in addition to the suicidal thought, the child has a plan of suicide, then serious consideration should be given to hospitalization of the child for their own protection. If your child is actively engaging is suicidal behaviors, call 911 immediately. Any time you fear that your child might be suicidal, it is imperative that your seek the help of qualified professionals. It is also advisable that you remove any guns from the house, as this is the most lethal of all methods, and also the one that is prone to be used impulsively.
After the suicidal crisis is over, you must continue to support, listen, and care for your child. You don’t want them to think that they must threaten suicide in order to get your attention. It is also important to follow-up with a mental health agency, in order to resolve the difficulties that stimulated the suicidal behavior. Remember, youth suicide is a family problem.
Please do not hesitate to contact the school psychologist(s) and school counselor(s) at your child’s school if you have concerns about your child.
Local Agencies For Assistance
University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center – Emergency Psychiatric Services
701 East Charles Street, P.O. Box 1070
La Plata, MD 20646
Charles County Department of Health Mental Health Services
4545 Crain Highway
White Plains, MD 20695
Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-422-0009