Warning Signs of Suicide in Children and Teens

Overview

Warning signs of suicide in children and teens include:

  • Talking about suicide or wanting to die or disappear.
  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death.
  • Giving away belongings.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family.
  • Being angry or hostile.
  • Doing risky things, like driving too fast.
  • Using alcohol or drugs.
  • Having changes in eating or sleeping patterns, such as eating less or sleeping more than usual.

Not everyone who's at risk for suicide has these signs. They may have others. For example, they may seem hopeless, anxious, or depressed. Or they may quit caring about how they look.

There may also be other reasons for these behaviors.

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

What puts children and teens at risk for suicide?

It's hard to know if a child or teen is thinking about suicide. But you can look for things that may make them more likely to have thoughts of suicide or to make a suicide attempt. These include their personal experiences and their family history.

Take any mention of suicide seriously. If a child or teen talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away.

Personal experiences

Children and teens may be more likely to think about or attempt suicide if they:

  • Have made a previous suicide attempt.
  • Have a mental health problem, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a drug or alcohol problem (substance use disorder).
  • Know someone who recently attempted or died by suicide. This may include a friend, a family member, or a personal hero, like a sports figure or a musician.
  • Have access to a means of suicide, such as a gun or pills.
  • Have a history of sexual abuse.
  • Have a history of being bullied.
  • Have gone through a stressful experience, like a divorce in the family or the death of a parent.
  • Have legal or discipline problems, or have problems at school (like falling grades, behavior problems, or frequent absences).
  • Have stress caused by physical changes related to puberty, chronic illness, or other issues.
  • Are LGBTQ+. Issues like bullying and discrimination can contribute to an increased risk.

Family history

Children and teens may be at higher risk of suicide if they have:

  • A family history of suicide.
  • A parent who has depression or substance use disorder.
  • A disruptive or abusive family life.

Credits

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
David A. Brent MD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry