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Fayetteville, NC 28305
(910) 486-5437
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Fayetteville, NC 28303
(910) 920-4428
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Understanding the Warning Signs: When to Get Help for Your Child’s Suicidal Thoughts

It is normal for kids and adults to have feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression. But how do you know when these feelings require you to step in? How do you know if your child is suicidal? And what do you do if your child is having suicidal thoughts? This blog addresses the most common questions parents have on mental health and provides answers on how to support them when they need it most.

It would be remiss not to share some facts on suicide among teens. One survey found that 57% of female teens and 29% of male teens live with sad, hopeless feelings that won’t go away. These statistics have increased from what they were ten years ago and have caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to declare a national emergency in children’s mental health. Parents only know what they know, and it is not uncommon for teens to keep their feelings to themselves. As such, it is critically important for parents to recognize the signs that their child is suicidal.

Is my child having suicidal thoughts? 

It is not uncommon for teens to keep depressive and suicidal thoughts to themselves. It can be challenging to recognize sadness with thoughts of suicide. One study found that nearly 50 percent of all parents didn’t know their adolescent child was having suicidal thoughts. Our advice for parents is to talk to their kids. Trust your intuition. If you are concerned your child may be contemplating suicide, talk with them. Don’t fear talking with them about suicidal thoughts. Please provide your child a safe and judgment-free zone to share their feelings and fears. 

What are the signs of suicidal ideation?

Suicidal ideation is also known as suicidal thoughts and, according to the National Institutes of Health, describes a range of contemplations, wishes, and preoccupations with death and suicide. Research shows that nearly 80 percent of those who attempt suicide say something beforehand. 

Some signs to be on the lookout for include:

* changes in their behavior and attitude. If they become easily angered or irritable, something may be happening that requires intervention. 

* School grades begin slipping

* Isolation 

* Lost interest in things they previously enjoyed

* Changes in appetite – eating significantly more or less than normal

* Self-harm

* Drug or alcohol use

* Symptoms of depression and anxiety

• Music, videos, writings, and drawings may reflect suicidal ideation

If your child has shown any of the above signs, you must step in to support them. And remember, you are not alone. Your child’s pediatrician is here to support you and is prepared to provide referrals, as needed, to help you and your child. 

Does talking about suicide make it more likely to happen? 

While it is not uncommon to think talking about the elephant in the room will make it more likely to happen, research shows this is not the case. Asking direct, honest, and open-ended questions is more likely to save a life than prompt a suicide attempt. 

How can I talk to my child about suicide?

Timing is essential when you want to start a conversation about suicide. Find time when you can completely focus on them and when having this critical conversation. A great option is in the car or while on a walk. You can also take them out for lunch or dessert. Begin the conversation with love, compassion, and concern. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests conversation starters such as, “I care so much about you, and even though I know you are a strong person, I can’t help but notice that you’re hurting lately. Those feelings can make some people consider suicide. Have you ever thought about suicide?”

Your child may get frustrated, defensive, and even angry when you ask them about suicide, but highlight your genuine concern so they can trust you. Be a safe place for them to be honest and open about their feelings. Give them permission to feel their feelings and ask them to share them with you. Don’t dismiss what they tell you by saying they’re fine. To them, what is happening is very serious and concerning, and they have a right to feel pain. Try to remember what bothered you when you were their age. Our perception of problems changes as we age, but their perception is their reality. Give them a safe place to share what’s happening, listen to them, and tell them you love them and will get them help. 

Take all thoughts of suicide seriously. This means that you should call your child’s pediatrician right away. We have the experience to help families manage mental health concerns and can provide a safety plan for what to do if suicidal thoughts don’t stop or worsen. We are here to help your child and to support you, too. Please do not hesitate to contact us anytime with your concerns. 

If your child has a suicide plan or cannot stop thinking about suicide, call 988 right away. Crisis counselors are available on this line 24 hours a day and seven days a week. They can also link you to emergency services in your area. Please provide your child with this number so they know help is available anytime they need it. 

We’ve written a couple of other blogs on suicide. You can read them here and here.