Out of the Shadows: Preventing Child Suicide

October 28, 2011

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), about eight in 100,000 children commit suicide every year. The families of these children who are left behind often find themselves in a tragic bind to figure out what “went wrong.”

Most parents fall on the spectrum between surprise and confusion; all are in shock.  And unfortunately, the symptoms of suicidal behavior are often right in front of us, even if they seem ambiguous.

Changes in a child’s behavior should always be investigated, especially if the cause for the change isn’t clear.

Dr. Adelita Segovia is a child psychiatrist. “The biggest regret I see in some parents happens when they have mistaken symptomatic behavior for ‘acting out,’” she said.

Symptomatic behaviors can be difficult to identify. The following is a list of indicators to help parents clue-in to suicidal behavior.

  • A child may become more withdrawn or isolate themselves.
  • History of depression or previous attempts.
  • Cutting; hurting themselves or others.
  • Slowly overdosing: take notice if your child, who takes their own medicine, may be taking more than the recommended dose
  • Children who are particularly violent; violence can easily stem from depression. Violent children are also more likely to do something impulsive.
  • If a parent finds drawings, letters, or writing that contains thoughts of suicide, depression, or hurting themselves or others.

The first thing a parent should do if they feel their child is displaying symptomatic behavior is talk to their child. Parents aren’t always as tuned-in to their child’s life as they think. Ask direct questions to get a sense of what’s really happening.

The second thing a parent needs to do is get help. There are many resources for information about suicide prevention and medical professionals who can help with the struggle that comes with depression. A full assessment of a child suspected of being mentally ill in any capacity is always recommended.

For immediate help, contact the suicide prevention hotline. More information, as well as a resource list, can be found at Suicide Voices of Awareness Education website.

More resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

National Institute for Mental Health

Suicide Prevention Services of America

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

National Association of School Psychiatrists: Preventing Youth Suicide