No one likes talking about suicide, but with a sudden uptick in suicide cases over the last few years, it is important to know the warning signs. Educating yourself regarding what to look for in case of suicide is not paranoia, but a wise step towards taking preventative measures. So frequently, suicide warning signs are overlooked or misunderstood, with potentially drastic outcomes. Knowing the warning signs, subtle or direct, and knowing what consequential action to take can make a huge difference in safeguarding the life of a child.
While suicide can be viewed as more of a concern among adults, it is heartbreakingly one of the leading causes of death among youth. And unfortunately, children are not as likely to talk about suicide the way in which adults might, making it even more important to understand the warning signs as a child’s cry for help.
Children more often express suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideations, indirectly. They might develop a preoccupation with death or suicide. This could manifest in various ways in their lives: you may notice it on the clothing they wear, the manner in which they accessorize and/or the media they engage with (television shows, music, websites, individuals/pages on social media, etc.). Additionally, these thoughts may show up in drawings, writing, conversations and even homework assignments.
While it might be tempting to gloss over these signs as a “phase,” a passing trend or simply the influence of a friend, they might be a cry for help and should not be dismissed. Sometimes children don’t know how to talk about what’s happening inside their head, either because they are ashamed of these feelings or because they themselves don’t understand what’s happening.
Other warning signs
Not all children will display all warning signs of suicide, but it’s good to know what potential indicators might look like. Children may show both physical and verbal signs, including:
- Expressing a desire to “go away” or making hopeless statements about the future like, “You won’t have to worry about me”
- Talking about and/or threatening suicide
- Making statements about self-harm or suicide (“I wish I were dead”) in conversation or on social media
- A drastic personality shift (outgoing to reserved)
- Violent, risky or aggressive behavior which is sudden and uncharacteristic
- Giving away treasured possessions, or drafting a will
- Running away from home
- Withdrawing from friends and family; additionally, withdrawing mentally from school and extracurriculars/hobbies as seen in low grades or unusually poor performance
- Inability to eat or sleep
- Inattention to personal appearance
- Joking about suicide/death
If your child, or a child you know, displays warning signs, it’s necessary to reach out for professional help. Even when the immediate danger passes, it is important to continue therapy to help your child receive the healing and counseling needed to overcome suicidal thoughts. Additionally, never be afraid to take any child to the emergency room if the danger is immediate. This is not an overreaction, but a prevention in case the situation rises beyond your control.
Reasons behind suicide in youth
There is no one cause linked to suicide, but some reasons for suicidal thoughts are more common than others, including:
- Experiencing bullying/cyberbullying, threats or aggression from peers
- Struggles with depression or other mental disorders, including substance abuse, or a history of one of more disorders in the family
- A history of experienced abuse (verbal, physical or sexual)
- The loss of a family member, friend, peer or icon (mentor, teacher, celebrity, etc.) to suicide
While these instances do not always lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts, understanding the potentially devastating role they play in a child’s mental health is important, especially if linked to additional warning signs.
Talk about it
A frequent myth assumes that bringing up suicide in conversation will cause suicide. This is false. If you feel the need to bring up suicide, odds are the child is already thinking along those lines. Further discussion will not further endanger the situation.
Talk with children about the topic of suicide, and don’t skirt around the issue. Use the word “suicide” and ask the child directly if he/she is considering it. Avoiding the issue will make the child feel alone, unimportant or unloved, while having an authentic, vulnerable discussion shows them how supportive you will be while listening to them. Show them you are there to help and create a plan of action together to overcome life’s challenges together.
Seek professional help whenever necessary
If your child is struggling with thoughts of suicide and the time comes to reach out for help, this does not mean you have failed in any way as a parent. Some factors aren’t able to be controlled by a parent in any way, but you can control whether or not you seek help on behalf of your child.. If you perceive warning signs of suicide in your child, reach out to a certified adolescent therapist at Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare today. You can also reach appropriate help when you call us at (678) 274-4936. And if there is immediate danger, take your child straight to the emergency room or call 911 immediately.