Suicide.It’s one thing we never want to talk about, but something we need to talk about with our children. We never know what exactly is going on in our kids’ heads, but we can be attentive and notice warning signs in their behavior that could mean they’re thinking about suicide. And if you’re worried about it, the best thing to do is ask.
As licensed clinical social worker, Katie Hurley, writes, “The truth is that parents can never know for certain whether or not a child experiences suicidal thinking if they are too afraid to ask the question.”
You can read ten signs your child might be thinking about suicide below.
1. Showing Changes in Behavior
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change.”
These changes could include anything out of the ordinary for a sustained amount of time, like drastic changes in personality or emotional expression or showing a loss of interest in normal activities.
If your child is withdrawing from friends and family and isolating themselves, they may need help. Kids Health by Newmours writes that “pull[ing] away from friends or family” is an action a teen who is thinking about suicide might take.
3. Talking, Writing, or Drawing about Death or Suicide
“It’s natural for kids to think about death at times, particularly when they are coping with loss or hear about tragic events in the news. Preoccupation with death, researching ways to die, and/or talking about their own death can be red flags,” writes Katie Hurley, LCSW.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital also says that a preoccupation with death should alert you that your child may be considering suicide and need help.
4. Feeling Sad or Hopeless
The National Institute of Mental Health lists feeling trapped or hopeless as a warning sign for suicide ideation. These feelings can be signs of underlying mental health challenges, which are linked to suicide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy shares, “Maybe your child is merely having a bad day, but maybe it’s something more if this mood has been going on for a couple of weeks.”
5. Experiencing Mental Illness
Mental illness can be an extreme red flag for considering suicide, as “research shows that nine out of 10 individuals who attempt suicide have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, making these extremely important risk factors,” according to Stanford Children’s Health.
What’s more, the New York State Department of Health shares that “untreated mental illness, especially depression, is the leading cause for suicide. Many people who die by suicide suffer from untreated or poorly treated depression resulting from difficult life experiences.” If you believe your child may be struggling with mental illness, seek help.
6. Experiencing Stressful Events
Growing up is stressful, and children and teens experience stress differently. Particularly stressful events, according to Stanford Children’s Health, can include “unwanted pregnancy, trouble with the law, or not meeting high parental expectations,” while the American Academy of Pediatrics lists other potential stressors including “major loss (i.e., break up or death), substance use, peer or social pressure, access to weapons, public humiliation, severe chronic pain, chronic medical condition, impusiveness/agressiveness, family history of suicide.”
The Mayo Clinic adds that young people who struggle with mental health conditions have a more difficult time dealing with stressful situations. Children experiencing high levels of stress may need more support.
7. Giving Away Possessions or Saying Goodbyes
The New York State Department of Health includes writing suicide notes and getting rid of possessions (either by throwing or giving away) among red flags that your child may be considering suicide and recommends paying attention to this kind of behavior in kids, teens, and others.
8. Changing Sleep Patterns
Both the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the New York State Department of Health list changes in sleep patterns as a sign to look for. This includes both sleeping too much or too little, as well as not being able to sleep.
9. Exhibiting Reckless, Rash, or Violent Behavior
Increased substance use, showing rage or uncontrolled anger, or looking for revenge are all included in warning signs from the American Association of Suicidology. Stanford Children’s Health gives sexual promiscuity, truancy, and vandalism as other examples of reckless behavior.
10. Looking for Means
A final sign your child may be considering suicide is if they are looking for avenues to harm themselves. According to the New York State Department of Health, parents should be aware of their children looking for and “trying to obtain” weapons, medications, or other means.”
What to Do
The Mayo Clinic offers a few steps you can take if you notice signs your child (or someone else you know) could be contemplating suicide. First, if the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or an emergency hotline number—for example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you think your child is considering suicide, but may not be in immediate danger, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following actions:
- Ask. “Don’t be afraid to use the word ‘suicide.’ Talking about suicide won’t plant ideas in your teen’s head.”
- Take them seriously. Listen sincerely to your child’s concerns, take them seriously, and offer them your help.
- Find medical help. According to the Mayo Clinic, those who are considering suicide should get help from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
The New York State Department of Health also recommends that you do not leave your child alone, and safeguard any potential means for self-harm.
There is help and hope—for you and your child. Here are a few resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
- Text “TALK” to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- American Association of Suicidology
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center