Suicidal Ideation—Child

(Suicidal Thinking)

How to Say It: Soo-uh-sid-ul I-de-a-shun

Definition

Thinking about or planning to take one's own life is called suicidal ideation.

Causes

Suicide is often the result of many factors. These will differ from child to child. Many children are having problems coping with stress. They may feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

They may also have a mental health, problem such as depression. This can cause suicidal thoughts. It can also make stress much worse.

Risk Factors

This problem is higher in children with:

  • Substance use problems
  • Any mental health problem, such as depression, ADHA, autism, or anxiety
  • A history of self-harm
  • A long-term health problem

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A lack of a support system
  • Poor coping skills
  • Major changes in a child's life, such as problems at school or with other people in their lives
  • Prior trauma or abuse
  • Being bullied
  • Prior behavior that was impulsive or violent
  • Prior suicide in the family
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide
  • Taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants or anti-seizure medicines
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Easy access to items that could be used for self-harm, such as guns

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Symptoms

A child who is thinking about suicide may:

  • Talk about wanting to die or take their own life
  • Talk about feelings of despair
  • Plan for death, such as by giving away favorite items
  • Withdraw from family and friends

The child may also be:

  • Irritable
  • Indifferent
  • Very moody
  • Having problems staying focused
  • Doing poorly in school
  • Uninterested in activities, such as school and hobbies
  • Causing self-harm, such as cutting or burning
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Changing how they look or not care about hygiene
  • Using alcohol or drugs

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. Other people in the family may also be questioned. Physical and mental health exams may be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment is needed right away. A child may be treated in a hospital. This is mainly true if they are at high risk or have tried to take their own life.

Single, family, or group therapy will be used to help handle suicidal thoughts.

The goals of care are:

  • Get treated for any mental, physical, and substance abuse problems
  • Make it harder to get items that may be used for self-harm
  • Build a support system of family, friends, and mental health experts
  • Build skills in problem solving, dealing with conflicts, and handling problems through non-violent means

Prevention

To lower a child's risk of suicidal ideation:

  • Follow treatment plans for mental health problems.
  • Teach children to avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Encourage children to talk about problems coping with stress.
  • Make it harder for them to get items that may be used for self-harm.
RESOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org

Mental Health America
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Psychiatric Association
https://www.cpa-apc.org

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca

REFERENCES:

Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906140/Depression-in-children-and-adolescents. Accessed November 20, 2020.

Harkavy-Friedman J. Learning more about suicidal ideation. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/Learning-More-About-Suicidal-Ideation. Accessed November 20, 2020.

Help for suicidal thoughts. NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Victor SE, Klonsky ED. Correlates of suicide attempts among self-injuries: a meta analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2014;34(4):282-297.

Warning signs of suicide. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education site. Available at: https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors. Accessed November 20, 2020.

We can all prevent suicide. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Available at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide. Accessed November 20, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 11/20/2020