Helping Parents Recognize Suicide Signs in Children
No parents ever want to find themselves seeking signs of suicide in children. Childhood suicide is one of the most heartwrenching plagues that society faces, and the impact on loved ones is devastating. Fortunately, parents who take the time to familiarize themselves with signs of suicide in children can limit mental health issues, and potentially save lives.
Addressing suicide is no easy task. Thankfully, there are resources and data that can help parents and caregivers recognize signs of suicide in children. If you are concerned that your child might be suicidal, but aren’t sure what the warning signs are, read on to learn how to spot behaviors that might signal a need for intervention.
Note: When talking about the topic of suicide, the language can feel blunt. However, all research points to the effectiveness of interventions that use direct language, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
Recognizing signs of suicide in children
No two children are the same. Suicidal tendencies in children will look different based on temperament, personality and the child’s situation. A child who is extremely talkative and outgoing will demonstrate warning signs differently than a child who is more naturally soft-spoken.
As a parent or caregiver, you are the expert on your child. Your relationship and proximity to your child are some of the best assets you have when making decisions on behalf of their mental health. Even if your child shows none of the warning signs listed below, do not hesitate to reach out for professional help if you feel a need for further assistance.
Common warning signs of suicide in children include:
Changes in sleep
Changes in eating patterns
Changes in friend groups
Changes in appearance
No longer caring about personal hygiene
Sudden and strong mood changes
Expressing feelings of hopelessness
No longer engaged in hobbies or interests
Expressing feelings of worthlessness
Preoccupation with death
Plans to attempt suicide
Making person arrangements
Writing goodbye letters, bringing the contents of a school locker home or giving away things
Acquiring a means to attempt suicide
Hoarding pills or obtaining a weapon
Recent life changes
Loss of a loved one, legal trouble or trouble at school
Statements to listen for
“It’s all too much”
“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up”
“Life isn’t worth living”
“I don’t have anything to look forward to”
What to do if you see suicidal signs in children
The first thing to do is to voice your love for your child. Then, state your concerns. Identify specific behaviors that you’ve noticed that have made you worried. Next, ask directly about suicide. This might be hard to say out loud, but it’s important that you ask “Have you thought about suicide?” and “Have you made plans to attempt suicide?”
This conversation could be one of the hardest of your life, but it could also be the most important. Don’t leave the conversation without making an action step. The action step could be setting up a therapy appointment, or calling a school social worker or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Resources for parents
As a parent, there are some resources you’ll want to have handy. Bookmark the resources you think will be helpful and save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number as a contact in your phone. Also, consider talking to your child’s pediatrician and school. They will connect you to the best services in your area.
911: Call local law enforcement first for emergency situations. Things that constitute emergencies include, but are not limited to:
An individual who has already consumed pills or a potentially lethal substance
An individual who currently possesses a weapon
An individual who has access to a means to harm himself or someone else
An individual whose behavior is erratic and uncontrollable
An individual who has expressed suicidal ideation and cannot be located
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: For non-emergency situations, this lifeline is the best place to call. The lifeline provides professional support for those in distress and can connect you with local resources. Call the number or visit the website to find specific resources for diverse and at-risk groups.
The National Association of School Psychologists: This article, titled “Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators” outlines suicide warning signs in children, action steps you can take and protective factors that decrease the likelihood of a suicide attempt.
The Sucide Prevention Resource Center: This resource is not specifically catered to youth, but offers tools and training to recognize and cope with suicidal ideation for individuals and families.
Looking for signs of suicide in children is something no parent should ever have to do, and you don’t have to do it alone. Pyramid Online Counseling works with adults and adolescents (ages 14 and up) to support mental wellness and decrease suicidality. Support your child or seek therapy yourself as you cope with this major life event by calling (833) 525-3077, or reaching out online today.