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Recognizing Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts in Children and Teens

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and we should be attention paid to this issue all year long, this month provides a more focused opportunity to raise awareness, connect struggling individuals with the resources they need, share stories of healing, and continue the effort to normalize conversations involving suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in individuals aged 10-24 (1). Oftentimes, the warning signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior in adults are much more recognizable than in children and teens. The best way to assess if your child has been having these thoughts is to talk about it. One common misconceptions is that discussing suicide causes kids and teens to think about it. The truth is that parents can never know for certain whether or not their child is experiencing suicidal thinking if they are too afraid to ask. Talking about suicidal thoughts de-stigmatizes the issue and allows for more open communication about mental health.

The following subtle warning signs may prompt a discussion about suicide with your child:

Any changes in their normal behavior.

Behavioral changes, such as changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, sudden withdrawal from family and friends, and the onset of somatic symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, etc) can signal possible depression.

Changes at school.

Mild fluctuations in their academic performance can be expected, but if you notice a drastic change in their grades, refusing to go to school, a lack of interest in going to school or participating in their normal extracurricular activities, this may be a red flag.

A preoccupation with death.

Children are bound to think and talk about death at times, especially after the loss of a loved one or hearing about tragic events in the news. However, if you notice your child has been preoccupied with death, researching ways to die, or making statements about what would happen if they died (ex; “you won’t miss me when I die, I wish I was dead”), then this is a significant red flag and should be addressed immediately. Always take these statements seriously.

If faced with any of these warning signs, parents should ask specific questions about suicidal thoughts, such as “Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?” Parents should also talk openly about depression by asking questions like, “Are you feeling depressed or very sad lately?” These questions show your child that you understand and that you care. Empathy and validation during an emotional crisis are crucial for your child.

This conversation should also be followed up with an evaluation with a licensed mental health professional. At Calm Mind Counseling Center, our licensed clinicians specialize in working with children and teens and can provide your child with the support they need, as well as assist you, the parent, in how to best support your child. One conversation is sometimes all it takes to save a life. If you or someone you know are in crisis, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Source: Hurley, Katie. Children and Suicide: Are There Red Flags to Look For? https://www.psycom.net/children-and-suicide

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