What to do if my child is suicidal: 8 tips for parents

A serious public health problem, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents.

And while suicide and depression are interwoven, other triggers of suicidal thoughts and actions can include a romantic relationship breakup, failing in school, being bullied, or experiencing abuse, loss or other trauma.

Here’s what parents need to know about suicide prevention:

1. Know the warning signs

  • Pay attention to children talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, or being a being a burden to others.
  • Suicide notes are a very real sign of danger and should always be taken seriously. These notes may be in the form of letters, emails, social media posts or text messages.
  • If someone has attempted suicide in the past, they are more likely to try again.
  • Watch for children making final arrangements like saying goodbye to friends; giving away prized possessions; or deleting social media profiles, pictures or posts.
  • Making sudden dramatic changes can be a sign too. Watch out for teens withdrawing from friends and family; skipping school or classes; becoming less involved in activities that were once important; avoiding others; having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time; suddenly losing or gaining weight; or showing a disinterest in appearance or hygiene.
  • A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns or pills, or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan.
  • Sudden risky behaviors can indicate suicidal thoughts. Watch for increased use of alcohol or drugs, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge. Self-injury is also a warning sign for young children and teenagers.

2. If you have any suspicion, ask your child if they are thinking about killing themselves. This will not put the idea into their head or make them more likely to attempt suicide.

3. Listen to your child without judgement and let them know you care.

4. Help your child stay engaged in their usual coping activities life family activities and sports.

5. If your child is in danger, stay with them or ensure they are in a private, secure place with another caring person until you can get further help.

6. Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt like medications, guns, sharp knives, ropes or cords, or cleaning products.

7. If danger of self-harm or suicide is mounting, call 911.

8. Know your resources.

Find a therapist by calling CalOptima Behavioral Health at 855-877-3885 or checking with your insurance provider on its website or phone number printed on the back of your card.

Here are other ways to get help for a child having suicidal thoughts: Call the MHSA Suicide Prevention Line at 877-727-4747 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Text CONNECT to 741741. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

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