Kids and Suicide
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in the United States. Many suicidal children and adolescents have depression alone or in conjunction with another mental illness like anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder or child-onset schizophrenia.
It’s easy to think that your child’s depression may be a passing phase, or something that will go away. All children and teens have days when they may be sad or angry at the world. It’s when those feelings last more than a week or two, and interfere with daily functioning, that it might be time to seek professional help.
Changes in behavior, such as appetite changes, no longer enjoying activities they used to like, changes in sleeping patterns or always feeling tired — especially if they are related to a painful event, loss or change — may also be a sign of depression which could include suicidal tendencies.
“We often don’t imagine that children and teens could actually attempt to end their lives, but unfortunately, it can and does happen,” said Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC Children’s. “So often these children showed some type of warning signs ahead of time. Talking openly about mental health and suicide can save children’s lives.”
If your child tells you that they want to die or wish they weren’t alive – regardless of age – it’s important to get help immediately. Children who express interest in dying should be taken seriously, and not treated as if they are acting out for attention. Many children (even children younger than 10) and teens who threaten suicide will make a suicide attempt.
Most children who take their lives exhibit warning signs.
Suicide Warnings Signs in Children and Adolescents
Saying things like:
- “I shouldn’t be here.”
- “I wish I could disappear forever.”
- “I don’t want to live anymore,” or “I want to kill myself.”
- “The voices tell me to kill myself.”
- “My parents won’t even miss me.”
- Talks about being a burden to others, having no reason to live, experiencing unbearable pain.
Doing things like:
- Talking or joking about suicide.
- Giving away possessions.
- Isolating from friends, family and previously enjoyed activities
- Obsessed with guns and knives
- Acting recklessly.
Mood changes, such as:
- Depression and/or sadness
- Loss of interest in friends, family and previous interests and activities
What do I do if my child is suicidal?
If your child is in immediate danger of self-harm, please call 911.
- Call the Centralized Assessment Team (C.A.T.)– 1-866-830-6011 or 714-517-6353
This team is designed to provide evaluations for involuntary hospitalizations. For safety purposes, C.A.T. will be assisted by the police/sheriff when called to a scene.
If you are worried your child might make a suicide attempt:
- Stay with them.
- Be sure to lock away lethal items, such as medications, firearms, knives or any other potentially lethal item.
- Lock up alcohol as drinking can reduce inhibitions and lead children to make impulsive decisions.
- Call a suicide hotline (see numbers below).
- Escort them to obtain mental health services.
Always take suicidal tendencies seriously and respond immediately.
Assure your child that here is hope. Let your child know that there are people who can help, and that you will take immediate action to get those services. Don’t try to fix the problem. Get professional help.
Know that early intervention is the key to successful treatment.
What to do if you think a child may be suicidal
It’s important if you are concerned that a child or teen may be suicidal to ask questions such as:
- Have you thought of suicide? (older children)
- Are you thinking of killing yourself? (older and younger children)
- Do you feel so badly that you have thoughts of dying? (older and younger children)
- Do you wish you could go to sleep and not wake up? (younger children)
Asking your child or teen if they are suicidal will not cause them to become suicidal. It will open the dialogue and help you determine if your child needs help. Talking can save lives.
24/7 Suicide Prevention Lines
- If this is a life-threatening emergency:
- Crisis Text Line:
741-741, text HOME to 741741. Free text support for people in crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. www.crisistextline.org
- Didi Hirsch Suicide Crisis Hotline:
Crisis prevention hotline, over-the-phone suicide prevention services.
Available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- Crisis Assessment Team (CAT):
1-866-830-6011 or 1-714-517-6353
Crisis evaluation for children and adults. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
CAT / PERT Program or
Suicide Prevention, Education and Support Groups:
Every child in Orange County who needs behavioral health treatment should receive high quality services without stigma or barriers to access
CHOC Children’s, in partnership with committed organizations and community groups, aspires to create an outstanding mental health system of care for all children, teens and young adults in Orange County. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive approach to pediatric mental illness.
CHOC Children’s Mental Health Initiative – Gavyn Bailey
Gavyn Bailey, CHOC patient, talks about his struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. Watch this inspiring video of Gavyn sharing how mental health treatment helped him.
Sign Up for the CHOC Mental Health Update