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Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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What is suicidal behavior ?

Suicide has to do with killing yourself.

Suicidal behavior includes:

  • Thinking about killing yourself

  • Attempting to kill yourself

  • Actually killing yourself (committing suicide)

Children who hurt themselves in ways that clearly aren't meant to cause death, such as by scratching, cutting, or burning themselves, are considered to have nonsuicidal self-injury.

  • Suicide is mainly a problem in teens and adults, but children do sometimes commit suicide

  • A stressful event may trigger suicide in children or teens who have a mental health problem such as depression

  • LGB (lesbian, gay, or bisexual) students are more likely to attempt suicide

  • Children at risk of suicide may be depressed or anxious and withdraw from activities, talk about death, or suddenly change their behavior

  • Doctors try to find out how serious a young person is about suicide

  • Treatment may include individual and family therapy, medicines to treat other mental health problems, or a hospital stay if the risk of suicide is high

Always take suicidal behavior seriously. If you think your child or teen is at risk of attempting suicide, call for help right away (in the United States, call 911 or call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or take your child to a hospital emergency department.

What causes suicidal behavior in children?

Often, suicidal behavior happens when a child or teen who already has a problem such as depression, substance abuse, or another underlying mental health disorder goes through a stressful event, such as:

  • A loved one's death

  • The loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend

  • Being bullied

  • Trouble at school

Many young people have stressful events like these. But if they don’t have an underlying problem, those events don’t usually lead to suicidal behavior.

What are symptoms of suicidal behavior?

Children and teens who think about or attempt suicide may:

  • Say things such as “I wish I’d never been born”

  • Give away some of their favorite things

  • Have extreme mood swings

  • Have trouble sleeping

  • Withdraw from family or friends

  • Get worse grades

How do doctors treat suicidal behavior in children?

Doctors will:

  • Make sure your child is safe and decide if hospitalization is needed

  • Treat underlying problems, such as depression or drug abuse, with therapy and sometimes medicine

  • Have your child see a psychiatrist or mental health specialist

  • Help your family understand the risk of future attempts

  • Have you take precautions to keep your child safe—remove or lock up any guns, medicines (including over-the-counter medicines such as pain relievers), and sharp objects in your home

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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