We have changed our visitation policy for the safety of our patients and staff. Click here for the updated visitation policy and click here for information about COVID-19.

Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by Preda A
(Suicidal Thinking)


Thinking about or planning to take your own life is called suicidal ideation.


Suicide is often the result of many factors. These will differ from child to child. Many children are having problems coping with stress. They may feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

They may also have a mental health problem such as depression . This can cause suicidal thoughts alone. It can also make stress much worse.

Risk Factors

Chances of suicidal ideation are higher if a child has:

  • Substance use problems
  • Any mental health problem such as depression or anxiety
  • Problems with self-harm
  • A long-term health problem

It's also higher for:

  • A lack of a support system
  • Poor coping skills
  • Major changes in their lives such as problems at school or with other people in their lives
  • Prior trauma or abuse
  • Those who are bullied
  • Prior rash or violent behavior
  • Prior suicide in the family
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide
  • Taking certain antidepressants or anti-seizure medicines
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Easy access to items that could be used for self-harm such as guns
The Brain
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A child who is thinking about suicide may:

  • Talk about wanting to die or take their own life—it's vital to take any talk about wanting to die seriously
  • Talk about feelings of despair
  • Plan for death such as by giving away favorite items
  • Withdraw from family and friends

They may also be:

  • Irritable
  • Indifferent
  • Very moody
  • Have problems staying focused
  • Doing poorly in school
  • Uninterested in activities such as school and hobbies
  • Doing self-harm such as cutting or burning
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Change how they look or not care about hygiene
  • Using alcohol or drugs

These can happen without suicidal ideations. But, if someone you know has these signs, try to talk to them to find out what's going on. Asking about these feelings will not push someone to take their own life. But, it may help save them.

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide or self-harm, it is vital to seek help right away. There are many suicide hotlines to help. They will give out information for friends and family of someone thinking about suicide.

If the risk high, call for emergency services right away. Risk is high if the person has a thought-out plan to take their own life or can get items that can cause harm.


You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. Other people in the family may also be questioned.

Your child will have a psychological exam. You and they will answer questions about their mental health.


Your child may be treated in a hospital. This is mainly true if they are at high risk or have tried to take their own life.

Single, family, or group therapy will be used to help handle suicidal thoughts.

The goals of care are:

  • Getting treated for any mental, physical, and substance abuse problems
  • Making it harder to items that may be used for self-harm
  • Building a support system that involves family members and friends
  • Building skills in problem solving, dealing with conflicts, and handling problems through non-violent means


To help lower your child's chances of suicidal ideation:

  • Follow any plans to treat illnesses your child has.
  • Encourage your child to avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • If your child has difficulty coping with stress, have them to talk to you, a family member, friend, or therapist.
  • Make it harder for them to get items that may be used for self-harm.


American Psychiatric Association  https://www.psychiatry.org 

Mental Health America  http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net 


Canadian Mental Health Association  https://cmha.ca 

Canadian Psychiatric Association  https://www.cpa-apc.org 


Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906140/Depression-in-children-and-adolescents  . Updated July 23, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Gliatto M, Rai A. Evaluation and treatment of patients with suicidal ideation. Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(6):1500-1506.

Harkavy-Friedman J. Learning more about suicidal ideation. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/Learning-More-About-Suicidal-Ideation. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Help for suicidal thoughts. NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide. Updated February 27, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Klonsky ED, May AM, Glenn CR. The relationship between nonsuicidal self-injury and attempted suicide: converging evidence from four samples. J Abnorm Psychol. 2013;122(1):231-237.

Victor SE, Klonsky ED. Correlates of suicide attempts among self-injuries: a meta analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2014;34(4):282-297.

Warning signs of suicide. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education site. Available at: https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors. Accessed September 4, 2018.

We can all prevent suicide. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Available at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide. Accessed September 4, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2018
  • Update Date: 09/04/2018