Children and Suicide Warnings
Many adults in our society deny suicide and especially the possibility of child suicide. In order to prevent child suicide, we must first acknowledge that children do have suicidal thoughts and that they may act upon these. Secondly, we must take suicidal warnings seriously and not dismiss the behavior as being “all in their heads”. Many believe that the suicidal thoughts or behaviors expressed by a child are “trivial manipulations” or are “ploys to get attention”. However, suicide remains a leading cause of death in the United States, and “suicidal ideation” (thinking about suicide) is a significant warning sign in children. Suicide is the second leading cause of death within the teenage population. Among the most common motives for suicide, is despair (to lose all hope or confidence). Noteworthy, stressful events become traumatic to a child if they pose such a overwhelming threat to a childs beliefs about his/her own physical safety, security, and the trustworthiness of important others in protecting predictability and certainty within the childs world. In the cases where a child exhibits traumatic stress response symptoms, it means the bio-physiological neuropathways have been altered as a result of one or more previous overwhelming experiences by contributing to a childs instability in thinking and behaving.
Motivation Relief or escape from perceived unbearable pain (from the childs point of view, not the parents). An attempt to regain control in their lives. Often see them self as the family scapegoat. Acting out a convert or overt desire of the parent to be rid of the child.
Risk Factors Depression and hopelessness. Psychiatric disorders in the family and family problems. Poor social adjustment. Emotional, sexual, and/or physical abuse. Chronic health problems. Drug or alcohol abuse. Previous suicide attempts. Another child or teenager who recently committed suicide.
Warning Signs Symptoms of depression that last for two weeks (sad or irritable mood, atypical rebellious behavior) or longer; unusual neglect of appearance and grooming habits. Complaints about physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or generalized pain. Showing little interest in the future or activities that used to be important. Intolerance of praise and rewards. Speaking and/or moving with unusual speed or slowness or loss of energy. Diminished ability to think or concentrate. Slowed thinking or indecisiveness; feeling as if ones head is in a fog. Talking about or mentioning death, suicide, or committing suicide to end the intolerable pain. Expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness, or having no one in life that can understand them. Complaining of being a bad person, self reproach, or guilt. Making verbal statements, namely, “I wont see you again.” Has experienced a recent severe loss of a relationship and/or divorce of a family member/parent or significant person in the childs life, self-esteem, diagnosis of a chronic illness, or personal security (e.g., parents losing a home or job). Withdraws from family and friends. Change in sleeping or eating habits.
How to Help Listen. Suicide is preventable. Thoughts of suiciding are real for a child, even if the parent does not believe the child means what they say. Take the childs comments regarding self-hate, suicide, or death very seriously. Do not try to minimize or dismiss the seriousness of the childs feelings by telling them “you dont really mean what they are saying”, “You are just trying to get attention”, “You would never do that” or to “snap out of it”. Ask the child or teen what you could do that would be helpful to them? Seek professional help.