Suicide Prevention for Children and Adolescents
What do I need to know about suicide prevention? Your child may see suicide as the only way to escape emotional or physical pain and suffering. Call 911 if you feel your child is at immediate risk of suicide, or if he talks about an active suicide plan. Assume that he intends to carry out his plan. Watch for warning signs, and get him the help he needs.
What should I do if I think my child is considering suicide? Resources are available to help you and your child. You can help provide emotional support for him and get the help he needs:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
- Contact your child's therapist. Your child's caregiver can give you a list of therapists if he does not have one.
- Keep medicines, weapons, and alcohol out of your child's reach. Do not leave your child alone. Stay with him if he says he wants to commit suicide or you think he may try it. Make sure you do not put yourself at risk if your child has a weapon.
- Do not be afraid to ask if he is thinking of ending his life. Ask if he has a plan for hurting or killing himself. Ask what he would use to kill himself and if he has it.
What warning signs should I watch for? Your younger child may injure himself in an attempt to feel better rather than to commit suicide. These actions are often a sign that your child needs help. Do not ignore these injuries or any of the following warning signs:
- Your child talks about his plan for committing suicide.
- Your child starts doing poorly in school. He may stop turning in homework or struggle with subjects that were not difficult before.
- Your child does dangerous things that could kill him.
- Your child cuts himself, burns his skin with cigarettes, or drives recklessly.
- Your child begins to joke, read, or write about suicide, killing, and death.
- Your child says he will not see you again or that soon he will not be a problem for you.
- Your child withdraws from others or stops doing things he enjoys. He gives or throws away his favorite things.
- Your child is sad every day. Then he becomes suddenly very happy and cheerful after a time of depression and sadness.
- Your child has changes in how he eats, sleeps, or dresses. He may gain or lose weight, or have less energy than usual. He may have trouble sleeping or spend a lot of time sleeping.
What may increase my child's risk of suicide?
Depression or mental illness: Depression is the main reason people attempt suicide. Alcohol and drug abuse can increase depression and thoughts of suicide. The death of an important person, or the anniversary of a death, can cause intense grief and depression. Mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also increase the risk of suicide.
Suicide history: Your child's risk is higher if he attempted suicide before. He is also at risk if someone close to him attempted or committed suicide.
Mental, physical, or sexual abuse: Your child may be in a relationship that is not healthy or is abusive. The risk also increases if he has a history of violence or aggression toward others. Your child may feel guilty for hurting someone else.
Loss, grief, and fear: Your child may feel loss caused by the divorce of his parents. He may feel grief from the death of a friend or family member. He may feel anxious or insecure if he moves to a new school or is bullied. Your child may have recently broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Your daughter may feel scared or guilty if she becomes pregnant.
Sexual orientation: Adolescents have an increased risk of suicide if they struggle with being gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
How will caregivers help my child?
Assess his risk: Your child's caregiver will talk to your child without you so he can be honest about how he feels. The caregiver will ask about his suicide plans and how often he thinks about suicide. He will ask your child if he has tried it before and if he has begun to hurt himself. He may also ask if your child has weapons or drugs.
Create a safety plan: Your child's caregiver may ask you to make a safety plan with your child. This will include a list of people or groups for your child to contact if he has suicidal feelings again. Your child may be asked to make a verbal agreement or sign a contract with you that he will not try to harm himself. His belt or shoelaces may be removed so he cannot harm himself.
What treatment may my child need?
Therapy: Your child's caregiver may recommend counseling or other therapy. Your child may receive therapy from school counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or others. Ask your caregiver for a list of caregivers or support groups that can help your child. Caregivers may recommend that your child be admitted for care to the hospital to ensure his safety.
Medicines: Medicines can help your child feel well enough to continue with all of the treatment he needs. Your caregiver will talk to you and your child about the need for medicines. Rarely, antidepressants can make your child more likely to act on his suicidal thoughts. This can happen during the first few months after he starts taking an antidepressant or changes the amount he takes. You will need to watch your child very closely for any such changes during the first 4 weeks he is taking it. Do not let your child stop taking this medicine unless directed. A sudden stop can be harmful.
How can I help my child? Do not make your child feel you are judging him or tell him that his suicide would be hard on you or others. Tell him you are here to support and help him.
- Give your child the contact information for services that can help him. Talk to him about therapy and medicines available to help him. He may follow through with treatment if he feels he was included in the planning.
- Listen when your child wants to talk. Let him know that you take his feelings and thoughts very seriously. Help your child understand that he can talk to you, another parent, or a close friend about his feelings. He can also talk to a therapist, religious or youth leader, or school counselor. Tell your child that these people want to help. Encourage him to talk to others about the way he feels. He may want to keep a daily journal where he can write about how he feels.
- Help your child spend time with family and friends. Get him involved with school events, a local community center, or activity groups.
- Help him make a list of things he hopes to do. Encourage him to make plans for what he is going to do for the next day, month, and year. Help your child make goals for his life. Encourage him to start doing things to make his goals happen.
- Have your child help you plan healthy meals and snacks. Ask his caregiver for more information if you have questions. Help your child make a bedtime schedule so he does not get too little or too much sleep.
Where can I find more information?
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
New York , NY 10004
Phone: 1- 800 - 273-TALK (8255)
Web Address: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
8120 Penn Ave. S., Ste. 470
Bloomington , Minnesota 55431
Phone: 1- 952 - 946-7998
Web Address: http://www.save.org
When should I contact my child's caregiver? Contact your child's caregiver if:
- You begin to see warning signs.
- Your child has changes in behavior when he starts on depression medicine or his dose is changed.
- Your child acts out in anger or has reckless behavior.
- Your child withdraws from friends or loved ones.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care? Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- Your child does something on purpose to hurt himself, such as cutting his wrists.
- Your child swallows medicines or other harmful substances, such as antifreeze.
- Your child says he wants to commit suicide.
- Your child feels that he cannot stop himself from hurting himself or others.
- Your child has sudden mood changes, such as angry outbursts or despair.
You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your or his caregivers to decide what care you want for yourself or your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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