Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors
If your child is having suicidal thoughts or behaviors, you need expert help and support – and you need it fast. Children’s Health℠ is one of the nation’s leaders in teen suicide prevention. We offer care and treatment to keep your child safe today, and we teach them skills to lead a long, healthy life.
What are Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors ?
Suicidal behavior is any type of self-harm that is accompanied by an intent to die. Suicidal behaviors include:
- Investigating ways to die by suicide
- Talking or writing about death more than normal
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to commit suicide
- Talking about feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or having no reason to live
- Behaving recklessly, like crashing a car for no reason, or misusing drugs or alcohol
What are signs of Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors ?
It is normal for teens to feel sad, moody and irritable at times. But when those feelings don’t go away, it can be a sign that it’s time to get help. Some of the signs of a suicidal child or teen include:
- Feeling very depressed
- Acting angry and moody
- Being unusually withdrawn
- Talking about wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling like they don’t belong
- Changing friend groups
- Losing interest in things they used to like
- Having new sleep patterns
- Feeling like they’re a burden (to themselves and their families)
How are Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors diagnosed?
There are many ways to determine if someone is suicidal. At Children’s Health, our expert pediatric psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical therapists will do a full assessment of your child’s mental health. They’ll ask questions about self-injury or past suicide attempts. They’ll determine how safe your child is at home and if your child has access to weapons or medicines that could be used to hurt themselves. Then they’ll recommend the best treatment plan for your child.
What causes Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors ?
It’s easy to want to blame something for a teen’s suicidal behavior. But it’s important to realize that it’s nobody’s fault, and that there are usually multiple causes. The factors that put teens at higher risk include:
- A history of self-injury or suicide attempts
- Depression and hopelessness
- Aggressive, risky or impulsive behaviors
- Family conflict
- A lack of social skills or problem-solving skills
- Drug or alcohol use
- Family history of suicide or mental illness
- Recent stress
- A recent hospital stay
- Serious sleep problems (insomnia)
- Having access to guns or medicines that might be used in a suicide attempt
- Being a sexual minority (LGBT)
How are Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors treated?
We can treat suicidal behaviors in many ways, and we’ll help you know what level of care your child needs. We offer:
- Hospital care, for children and teens who cannot be safely managed at home
- Day treatment, for children and adolescents who are safe to be at home but require a five-day-a-week program that includes school services and group therapy
- A nationally recognized intensive outpatient program (SPARC), where teens live at home and attend school, while also getting several hours of weekly therapy
- Outpatient therapy, where you meet with a mental health professional as often as you and your child need to
Our specialists will also team up to provide the best possible care for your child. Our specialists include:
- Child psychiatrists, who are doctors that address your child’s mental health
- Child psychologists, who provide therapy to help your child think and act more positively
- Clinical therapists, who are licensed providers that can help your family learn skills to move forward
- Recreation therapists, who help you find activities and behaviors that improve mood
- Nurses, who can oversee all aspects of treatment, answer questions and treat any physical problems
At each level of care, we’ll start by creating a safety plan. This plan is a critical tool for suicide prevention. It includes things like
- Warning signs to watch for
- Coping skills to help your child and family
- Sources of social support so your child doesn’t feel alone
- Emergency numbers so you can get expert help when you need it
We’ll review medications your child may be taking and prescribe additional medication that may help.
We also offer individual, family and group therapy. We approach therapy knowing that you and your child are doing your best – and that there is always room to learn and grow. Our therapy sessions can:
- Help you see the world through your child’s eyes and help them see your perspective
- Provide tools to better cope with stress and tough emotions
- Strengthen communication and problem-solving skills
- Help you find hope to move forward
- Connect families and teens with others who have similar struggles. Families tell us this is one of the most powerful parts of treatment.
Pediatric Suicidal Behaviors Doctors and Providers
Children’s Health is home to top psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health specialists with decades of experience helping teens navigate and overcome suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
James Norcross, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
David Atkinson, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
Emine Ayvaci, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
Graham Emslie, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
Laura Kuper, PhD, ABPP Pediatric Psychologist - Endocrinology
Jane Miles, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
KSKristin Scott, PhD Pediatric Psychologist - Foster Care
Laura Stone, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
Catherine Karni, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
J Trello-Rishel, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist
JHJessica Heerschap, PhD Pediatric Psychologist
Betsy Kennard, PsyD, ABPP Pediatric Psychologist
Sunita Stewart, PhD, ABPP Pediatric Psychologist
Nicholas Westers, PsyD, ABPP Pediatric Psychologist
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I help my suicidal teen?
A great start is to acknowledge the problem, know that you’re not alone, and get expert help as soon as possible. Many parents hope their child may grow out of suicidal behaviors, but that doesn’t usually happen on its own.
How common are suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation in teens?
It’s more common than many people realize. Around 17% of high school kids will admit to having suicidal thoughts.
How common is suicide in teens?
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and young adults between ages 10 and 24. It’s estimated that around 8% of teens will make a suicide attempt.
Is teen suicide preventable?
While we can’t prevent it in every case, our SPARC program has one of the nation’s best success rates. Teens who attend SPARC have a reattempt rate of 7% compared to a rate of 12% to 31% reported in the literature.
If our SPARC program is not the right fit or can’t accommodate your child, we can match you with treatment from outside experts who created or were trained in the SPARC model of care.
What should I do if my child is suicidal?
You can start by talking to them as directly and honestly as possible. Asking your child about suicidal thoughts will not make them more likely to have those thoughts or to act on them. We encourage parents to check-in and ask, “How often are you having suicidal thoughts and when are you having them?” You might even ask, “Do you feel like you might act on those thoughts? Do you have a plan?” Those are all good questions to ask, and questions we can help you address in a safety plan. It is always a good idea to contact your child’s pediatrician or family doctor if you have any concerns that they may be suicidal.