Suicide Prevention Among Teens and Children

If your child is in immediate danger of self-harm, please call 911.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and children 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. A young person dying because of overwhelming hopelessness or frustration is devastating to family, friends and community. Parents, siblings, classmates, coaches and neighbors might be left wondering if they could have done something to prevent that young person from turning to suicide.

It’s easy to think that a child’s depression may be a phase. 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.

Teenage girl sits against wall looking stressed

Child and Teen Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Changes in behavior, such as appetite changes, no longer enjoying favorite activities, changes in sleeping patterns or always feeling tired — especially if these behaviors 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. “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 suicide warning signs.

Why Do Teens Consider Suicide?

Learning more about what might lead a teen to suicide may help prevent further tragedies.

It can be hard to remember how it felt to be a teen, caught in that gray area between childhood and adulthood. The teen years are a stressful time filled with major changes. These include body changes and emotional changes. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear and doubt may affect a teen’s problem-solving and decision-making. Teens may also feel a pressure to succeed.

For some teens and younger children, normal development changes can be very unsettling when combined with other events, such as changes in friendships, problems in school, losses, or changes in family due to divorce, a loved one moving out or moving to a new city. These problems may seem too hard or embarrassing to overcome. For some, suicide may seem like a solution.

The reasons behind a teen’s suicide or attempted suicide can be complex. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases greatly during adolescence.

 Which Teens are at Risk for Suicide?

A teen’s risk of attempting or completing suicide varies with age, gender and cultural and social influences. Risk factors may change over time. They include:

  • One or more mental or substance abuse problems.
  • Impulsive behaviors.
  • Undesirable life events, such as being bullied or experiencing recent losses.
  • Family history of mental or substance abuse problems.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Family violence, including physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Past suicide attempt.
  • Imprisonment.
  • Access to a gun in the home (nearly 60% of all suicides in the United States are committed with a gun).
  • Access to over-the-counter, prescription or non-prescription medication (teens can even trade medications at school and store them in lockers or backpacks.
  • Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often girls. Experts think this is because they tend to use more lethal methods.

Suicide Warnings Signs in Children and Adolescents


Preteen boy sits on bed in dark room

Your child/teen has mood changes, such as:

  • Depression and/or sadness.
  • Loss of interest in friends, family and previous interests and activities.
  • Rage.
  • Anxiety.
  • Humiliation.

Your child/teen is saying things like:

  • “I shouldn’t be here.”
  • “I wish I could disappear forever.”
  • “I don’t want to/have no reason to live anymore,” or “I want to kill myself.”
  • “The voices tell me to kill myself.”
  • “My parents won’t even miss me.”
  • They feel like a burden to others.
  • They are in unbearable pain.

Your child/teen is doing things like:

  • Talking or joking about suicide.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Isolating from friends, family and previously enjoyed activities.
  • Obsessing over guns and knives.
  • Acting recklessly.

How is suicidal behavior treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment starts with a detailed evaluation of events in the child’s/teen’s life during the 2 to 3 days before the suicidal behaviors began. Treatment may include:

  • Individual therapy.
  • Family therapy, as parents play a vital role in treatment.
  • An extended hospital stay, if needed. This gives the child a supervised and safe environment.
  • A specialized program, such as the CHOC Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

What do I do if my child has suicidal thoughts?

If your child is in immediate danger of self-harm, please call 911.

Call the Centralized Assessment Team (C.A.T.) at 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.
  • Get your child/teen help for any mental or substance abuse problems.
  • Support them. Listen, try not to offer undue criticism and stay connected.
  • Become informed about teen/child suicide. Resources include the public library, local support groups and the Internet.

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 do I do if I 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)

It is important to know that 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.

What can I do if I’m thinking of suicide?

If you have been thinking about suicide, it is important to get help right away. If you need to talk with someone right now, resources are available 24/7 to help you by calling or texting:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text CONNECT to 741741. You also can contact them through their website.
  • Trevor Lifeline for the LGBTQIA+ community: 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. You can also contact them through their website.
  • These toll-free lines are staffed by people who are trained to help you without ever knowing your name or seeing your face. The calls are confidential.
  • If you feel you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you do not need to talk with someone right now, plan to talk to someone you trust as soon as you can, preferably a parent or other caring, responsible adult in your life, like a coach, school counselor, religious leader or teacher. Start the conversation by saying, “I’ve been having a tough time lately, and I’ve been thinking about suicide. I need your help.” Then, you can work together to find ways to get the help and support you need in this difficult time.

Remember, you are never alone. There are always ways to get help for yourself.

Suicide Resources for Parents and Teens

24/7 Suicide Prevention Lines

  • If this is a life-threatening emergency: Dial 911
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741, text HOME to 741741. Free text support for people in crisis.
  • Didi Hirsch Suicide Crisis Hotline: 1-877-727-4747. Crisis prevention hotline, over-the-phone suicide prevention services.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Crisis Assessment Team (CAT): 1-866-830-6011 or 1-714-517-6353. Crisis evaluation for children and adults. CAT/PERT Program or Crisis Services.

Suicide Prevention, Education and Support Groups

CHOC 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.

Every child in Orange County who needs behavioral health treatment should receive high quality services without stigma or barriers to access

Mom and daughter talking to each other

CHOC, 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.

Sign Up for the CHOC Mental Health Update

Sign up for monthly tips, news and information to stay up to date on important mental health topics.
Mental Health eNewsletter Archive