Arcona_Suicide Prevention Kids and Teens_Large

Myth vs. Fact: Suicide Prevention for Kids and Teens

Author: CHKD Medical Group, Andrea Powell Arcona, Ph.D.
Published Date: Monday, October 01, 2018

Last year, suicide was the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds in our country, with a significant increase in suicide in younger children as well. It’s important for everyone to recognize signs that could lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior. The more you understand about suicide prevention, the better you'll be prepared to help someone who may be at risk. Below, we look to dispel some of the myths and provide helpful facts and suggestions.

Myth: We don’t have to worry about suicide in kids and teens unless they look sad and depressed every day.

Fact: Kids and teens do not always show consistent deep sadness when they are experiencing clinical depression and/or contemplating suicide. Signs to look for, however, include: 

  • Feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation.
  • Talk about feeling hopeless, guilty, or not being around anymore.
  • Decreasing desire to take part in favorite things or activities.
  • Weakening relationships with parents or peers.
  • Increasing social isolation.
  • Talk about suicide or death in general.
  • Writing songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss.
  • Giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits.
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviors.
  • Recent experience of major stressors, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, or conflict in the home.

Myth: Talking to your child or teen about suicide will plant the idea in the child’s head.

Fact: Research suggests that kids already know about suicide well before leaving elementary school, and that talking to your kids about suicide actually decreases, not increases, their risk. Opening the conversation can be challenging for parents, but it can make all the difference if your child is having suicidal thoughts. 

Some talking points include: “I have noticed that you have not been seeing your friends as much lately and you are talking a lot about ‘life not being worth it’. Have you noticed? … I know it is hard to be a teenager and a lot of kids think about suicide. Does it ever cross your mind? You are such an awesome young man and I am so sorry if you are feeling that way. You really can talk to me about it. I will listen and I can help … or I will find somebody who can…” 

Myth: Kids and teen who talk about suicide are not in real danger. They are just trying to get attention.

Fact: Kids and teens who discuss or threaten suicide should always be taken seriously. Kids and teens who talk about wanting to "disappear," or "end it," or say that things being better if they weren’t around, are much more likely to try to kill themselves than those who do not. Even if they are doing so “just to get attention,” there is a real need to be addressed. They may be using the only words or concepts they know to express how bad they feel and how much they need help. Ignoring or minimizing their words can make them more likely to attempt suicide in order to get the attention they are seeking. 

Even when parents feel confident that the threats or thoughts are not in earnest, they still need attention. A common example is a teen whose parents are not allowing her to go to a social event as a consequence for a poor choice or misbehavior. She says she “wants to die” and “her life is over.” These statements should not change the consequence (she should still not attend the event), but the statements should receive attention. For example, at a calm time, a parent might say “Do you really want to die, or do you just want me to know how mad you are and how unfair you think this is? Either way, I want you to know that you can talk to me about it…” 

Myth: Kids and teen who “fail” in an attempt at suicide are not in real danger. They were not really trying to kill themselves.

Fact: Kids who attempt and fail are in very real danger. Even if the child or teen is not intending to die, the risky behavior associated with an attempt may lead to an accidental death (e.g., taking too many pills or miscalculating when someone will arrive to “rescue” them). Also, teens who attempt once are more likely to attempt again and eventually die from suicide. 

What Can Parents Do to Help?

Talk to your children. Let them know that you love them and value them, that they can talk to you about anything, and that there is nothing so bad that you can’t help them get through it. This does not mean that you can always solve their immediate problems or that you will not hold them accountable for poor choices or misbehavior. It does mean that that the future always holds promise and that you can help them get through whatever hard times they face.

Let your kids know that if you don’t know how to help on your own, you will find someone who does. If you need support and your child has a therapist or counselor, start there. If not, your child’s pediatrician can help work through some of your concerns and connect you with a mental health professional who can help.



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About CHKD Medical Group

Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.