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Children Are Not Immune to Thoughts of Suicide

How to Recognize the Subtle Warning Signs in Children

Children and teens, like adults can be impacted by the effects of Covid-19. Here are a few symptoms to be in the lookout for:

Changes in baseline behavior:

Trust your gut. If you notice behavioral changes that aren’t a one-time issue, take note. While suicidal behavior is often associated with symptoms of depression, you might also notice the following changes in your child:


  • Insomnia, night waking or too much sleep may occur.

  • Overeating or not eating enough.

  • Withdrawing from family and friends.

  • Psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or other unexplained body aches and pains.

Changes in school may become apparent. However, due to the current shelter-in-place order, discerning these symptoms might become a bit more difficult.


  • Drop in academic performance

  • Decreased interaction with teachers and kids at school

  • Lack of interest in school

  • Refusal to participate in school

  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities (playing, sports, extracurricular activities)


It’s natural for kids to think about death at times, particularly when they are coping with loss or hear about tragic events in the news. Preoccupation with death, researching ways to die, and/or talking about their own death can be red flags. Watch for the following warning signs that involve thoughts about death:

  • Frequent questions about or looking up ways to die

  • Statements about dying or what will happen if the child dies (ex: “You won’t miss me when I die, I wish I was dead, I won’t bother you anymore when I’m gone.”)


You must take all suicidal statements seriously by seeking an evaluation for your child.

Communicating feelings of hopelessness for the future and expressing statements about helplessness, may indicate a preoccupation with death.

Feelings of hopelessness indicate that the child feels as if there is nothing to be done to improve their outcome, and no one who can help.

Some children give away their favorite possessions or tell parents, siblings, or friends who should get their favorite possessions. While talk of divvying up possessions might seem like fantasy play to parents, it can signal thoughts of suicide when combined with other changes in demeanor.

Young children are more likely to express their tense emotions through written words and drawings. Poems, stories, or artwork that depicts suicide or frequent writings and drawings about death should be evaluated.


Children readily experience changes in mood as they grow and work through stressors. However, significant changes in mood signal a problem may be occurring. Listen to your gut, because you know your child best of all. If your child suddenly shifts from calm and relatively happy to aggressive, completely withdrawn, or very anxious, it’s important to get help.


In addition to the warning signs that a child might experience suicidal ideation, there are also certain factors that can elevate the risk.

  • Previous suicide attempt (regardless of how serious)

  • Experiencing a loss (this can include grief and the loss of a relationship due to divorce or family discord)

  • Chronic bullying

  • Family history of suicide or suicide attempts

  • Violence or witnessing violence

  • Access to firearms

  • Impulsivity

  • Acute rejection

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Feeling like a burden



Photo by rubberduck1951--3713510

In addition to the warning signs that a child might experience suicidal ideation, there are also certain factors that can elevate the risk.

  • Previous suicide attempt (regardless of how serious)

  • Experiencing a loss (this can include grief and the loss of a relationship due to divorce or family discord)

  • Chronic bullying

  • Family history of suicide or suicide attempts

  • Violence or witnessing violence

  • Access to firearms

  • Impulsivity

  • Acute rejection

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Feeling like a burden


Any signs of suicidal ideation or behavior should be taken seriously. Parents should ask specific questions about suicidal thoughts, “Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?” Parents should also talk openly about depression by asking questions like, “Are you feeling depressed or very sad lately?” These questions show your child that you understand and that you care. Conveying empathy in a time of emotional crisis is crucial.


Regardless of how your child answers these questions, it’s essential to seek an evaluation by a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in working with children. If you’re not sure where to access help, schedule an immediate appointment with your child’s pediatrician, and indicate that you have concerns about your child’s mental health and potentially suicidal behavior.


With proper support in place, children can work through the feelings and triggers that result in suicidal thinking and learn effective coping skills to deal with difficult life situations.


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