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What To Do When a Child Is Having Suicidal Thoughts

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Children and Teens, Suicide

Forward, Together with western tidewater community services board

Few things are more frightening than when you think your child might be thinking of suicide. Suicide is such a heavy topic, and still a taboo one at that. It’s not an easy subject to approach, but it is a crucial one.

If you think your child or teen might be having suicidal thoughts, read on to learn a few ways you can help.

If you, your child, or someone else you know is considering, thinking about, or planning suicide, call 988 immediately.

The Youth Mental Health Crisis

Over the past several years, the U.S. has seen an increase in certain mental health conditions in youth, including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts). This was happening before COVID, but the number of young people experiencing poor mental health has increased dramatically throughout and since the pandemic.

Related: Mental Health Support in Virginia’s Classrooms

Why the Youth Mental Health Crisis Matters

 You may think your child is too young to contemplate suicide, but, in the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-to 24-year olds and the third-leading cause of death among teens and young adults aged 15-24.

Suicide isn’t the only negative outcome from this crisis. According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. 

Signs Your Child or Teen May Be Thinking About Suicide

Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • An existing mental health condition
  • A serious physical health condition, including pain
  • Prolonged stress, like bullying, harassment or relationship problems
  • Stressful life events, like rejection, a divorce, a transition, a financial crisis, etc.
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempts or a family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

Warning signs that someone is having suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about suicide, feeling hopeless, being a burden to others, having no reason to live, feeling trapped, unbearable pain, etc.
  • New or increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from others
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Saying goodbye to people or giving away favorite items
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability or anger
  • A sudden improvement in mood or mental health symptoms – this may mean they’ve made the decision to die by suicide

Here’s What To Do When Your Child Might Be Thinking About Suicide

Have an Open and Honest Conversation With Your Child

Make a list of the risk factors and/or warning signs you’ve noticed and approach your child at home or in another space that makes them feel safe and secure. Ask them if they have time to talk.

First, let them know they can be honest with you and that you are not going to judge. Tell them how much you care about them and about the things you’ve noticed. Offer support and encouragement and let them know they can always talk to you. Listen actively, maintaining eye contact and waiting until they’ve finished speaking to reply.

Remember to keep an open mind, even if you discover something about your child that you don’t approve of. Now isn’t the time to criticize or punish. 

Offer Your Child Options

If your child or teen doesn’t want to talk, ask if they’d like to reach out to someone else they might feel more comfortable talking to, like a friend or an older sibling.

Make Sure Your Child Knows About the 988 Crisis Line

If your child doesn’t want to talk to someone else, suggest that they reach out to the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

Let them know that the Lifeline is free and available 24/7 and that trained counselors will listen and, if they want, tell them about local resources that can help.

Connect Your Child With Resources

Your child or teen might benefit from resources for youth, especially if they’re a member of certain groups that are impacted more by mental health issues.

LGBTQ+ Resources

Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ report higher levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse by a parent or caregiver and suicide attempts. If your child identifies as LGBTQ+, let them know they can call 988 and request a counselor specially trained in LGBTQ+ issues.

You can also direct them to The Trevor Project, which provides a 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ+ youth, as well as an online community for LGBTQ+ young people.

Resources for Black Youth

Black youth are another at-risk group for suicide. A 2018 study found that Black children between the ages of 5 and 12 are about twice as likely to die by suicide as white children of the same age. Another study found that suicide rates among Black children and adolescents have increased, especially among Black girls, whose rate of increase was more than twice as high as that of Black boys.

The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) has provided a list of hotlines and other resources that may be helpful to Black youth.

The Teen Talk App

The Teen Talk app, available on Android and iOS, is a social media app for teens that provides a free, anonymous and safe space for teens ages 13 to 19. Teenage volunteers, called Teen Advisors, answer questions and offer support to their peers.

NAMI Teen & Young Adult HelpLine

A free nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals, and support to teens and young adults.

Crisis Support for Children and Teens at WTCSB

In Suffolk, Franklin and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton, WTCSB is your local authority on mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. We provide affordable, compassionate and exceptional care to our community members, including our youth. We offer specialized programs and services for children and teens, including mental health counseling.

If you’re concerned about your child or teen, we can help.

Get started by making an appointment for same-day access online or by calling us at 757-758-5106.

Let’s move forward, together.

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