Depression and Suicide

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people ages 10-24 years. Research shows that more than 95 percent of people who kill themselves have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder, often in combination with other mental disorders.

It's important to treat depression early so the child does not experience a mental health crisis. If a child has symptoms of depression, lasting almost every day for two weeks or more, he or she needs to be evaluated.

There are some experiences in a child’s life that may put him or her at higher risk for suicide. Although some of these risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to be aware that they can increase the possibility of a suicide attempt.  Some of the leading factors that increase the risk of suicide among children and teens are: 

  • Family history of depression or suicide
  • Psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar disorder and/or alcohol and drug abuse disorder
  • Previous suicidal attempt
  • Access to a firearm
  • Stressful life events or loss and a lack of family support
  • Serious medical condition and/or pain
  • Sexual identity concerns
  • History of abuse or being severely bullied

The behavior of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behavior of depressed adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of signs of depression in their children.

If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
  • Persistent boredom or low energy
  • Withdrawal from  friends or family
  • Low self-esteem and guilt
  • Increased irritability, anger or hostility
  • Trouble with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Anxiety

Some signs that a child or teen is considering suicide may include:

  • Giving away or selling valuable or cherished possessions
  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead, “or  “I wish I could disappear forever”
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Writing stories and poems or posting writings online about death, dying or suicide

If parents or another adult in a young person's life suspect a problem with depression, they should:

  • Be aware − While rare in young children, suicide is possible. Know the warning signs and risk factors that may increase your child's risk of suicide.
  • Talk to your child − Talking about suicide will not give your child the idea to attempt suicide. If a friend or other loved has died, committed suicide or is extremely ill, talk to your child about it and address her feelings.
  • Tell others − If your child exhibits suicidal thoughts or behaviors, tell your child's other caretakers and faculty members at her school so they can closely monitor your child when you are not around.
  • Keep weapons locked up − Common sense tells you to keep weapons, medications, alcohol, and poisons safely away from children, but this is especially important for children at risk for suicide.
  • Get your child treatment − If your child is depressed, at high risk for depression or other mental illness, it is essential to get her treatment.
  • Educate yourself − Get accurate information from libraries, help lines and other sources. Join a family support group.

A visit to a family physician or pediatrician may be the first step. However, if you think that your child is in crisis and has had a previous suicide attempt, is threatening to harm herself, or you just have a "gut feeling," get your child help immediately. Do not wait. If needed, take your child to a pediatric emergency room.

Having a child who is depressed or is suicidal does not make you a bad parent or mean that you did anything to cause his/her pain. The best thing you can do is to get your child help and support him in his recovery.

  • Let him or her know that you’re there to listen and offer support. Now more than ever, your teenager needs to know that he or she is valued, accepted, and cared for.
  • Encourage physical activity. Encourage your teenager to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression, so find ways to incorporate it into your teenager’s day.
  • Encourage social activity. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your teenager to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your teen out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.
  • Stay involved in treatment. Make sure your teenager is following all treatment instructions and going to therapy. It’s especially important that your child takes any prescribed medication as instructed.
  • Learn about depression. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your depressed teen.

As a parent dealing with teen depression, you may find yourself focusing all your energy and attention on your depressed child. Meanwhile, you may be neglecting your own needs and the needs of other family members. While helping your depressed child should be a top priority, it’s important to keep your whole family strong and healthy during this difficult time.

  • Take care of yourself – In order to help a depressed teen, you need to stay healthy and positive yourself, so don’t ignore your own needs.
  • Reach out for support – Get the emotional support you need. Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own.
  • Be open with the family – Don’t tiptoe around the issue of teen depression in an attempt to “protect” the other children. Kids know when something is wrong. When left in the dark, their imaginations will often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open about what is going on and invite your children to ask questions and share their feelings.
  • Remember the siblings – Depression in one child can cause stress or anxiety in other family members, so make sure “healthy” children are not ignored. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation. 

Last Updated 07/2014