Depression and Suicide Prevention in Children

On World Suicide Prevention Day, we would like to offer some advice from our Child Safety book, an easy to follow guide for any teacher, parent, or caregiver of children, on identifying depression in children and adolescents and preventing suicide.  

Signs of depression in children are often overlooked for a number of reasons.  Children are often not taken as seriously as adults who are often dismissed as well, death is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with children, and often children can be overdramatic about things which causes parents to dismiss them.  Regardless, any child who threatens suicide must be taken seriously.  By high school age, children are just as likely as adults to experience serious depression and any suicide threat is cause for full psychiatric evaluation.

Depression is the leading cause of suicide in adolescents and children, so it’s important to identify the signs of depression.  Some key markers of depression include:

  • Prolonged sadness or crying episodes
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Poor performance in school or truancy
  • Exaggerated reactions to normal events
  • Chronic physical complaints
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Comments about leaving home or school
  • Any comment, no matter how minor, about committing suicide

These signs do not necessarily mean that the child is suffering from depression but that psychological evaluation is a good idea.  Especially in young children, these symptoms can mean any number of things.  It is normal for a small child to ask questions about death, especially after experiencing their first loss, but if the preoccupation presides for a long period of time, it is important to have the child evaluated.

Even a teenager who has no history of depression can be at risk for suicide.  The hallmark signs of suicidal thoughts are hints at not being around much longer and giving away prized possessions.  Often, a child will even seem suddenly much happier after a long bout of depression from relief at their decision to commit suicide.  Any of these behaviors should be taken very seriously.  Anyone who has contact with children could be involved in stopping a suicide attempt or followthrough.

If a child makes a suicide attempt, it is crucial that the adults in his or her life neither ignore the subject nor interrogate the child about their attempt.  Keep communication open and comfortable and address the issue with other adults in the child’s life to help prevent a future attempt from occurring.  Children who attempt suicide once are at risk to do it again, so taking signs seriously with these children is especially vital.

Sometimes a child will come to a parent or teacher to report signs or confessions from other children about plans to commit suicide and ask the adult not to tell.  If this occurs, the child’s confidentiality must come second to reporting the threat of suicide.  While the confidentiality of the reporter is important, there are occasions when a child’s life must come first.  Abuse, homicidal or suicidal threats are some of these occasions.


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