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Childhood Mental Health: Suicidal Behaviour


Over the last several decades, the suicide rate in young people has increased dramatically. For example, in the USA in 1996, suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds (following unintentional injuries and homicide) and the 4th leading cause in 10 to 14 year olds.
Males far outnumber females in the suicide stakes (e.g. by 5:1 in the 15 to 19 age group; 7:1 in the 20 to 24 age group).
Suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents is, usually, a sign of mental disorder, most often depression .
Factors which can contribute to and/or cause suicidal feelings include: strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up. For some youngsters, divorce, the formation of a new family with stepparents and step-siblings, or moving to a new community can be very unsettling and can intensify self-doubts.

Symptoms and Signs

Many of the symptoms of suicidal feelings are similar to those of depression . Parents should be aware of the following signs of adolescents who may try to kill themselves:

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities.
  • Violent actions, rebellious behaviour, or running away.
  • Drug and alcohol use.
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance.
  • Marked personality change.
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomach-aches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
  • Does not tolerate praise or rewards.

Prevention and Treatment

Any statement by a child or adolescent that they will take their own life (e.g. "I want to kill myself," or "I'm going to commit suicide" ) should always be taken very seriously. Evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other physician should be sought. Also, asking the child or adolescent whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:

  • Complains of being a bad person or feeling "rotten inside".
  • Give verbal hints with statements such as: "I won't be a problem for you much longer," "Nothing matters," "It's no use," and "I won't see you again".
  • Put his or her affairs in order, e.g. give away favourite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
  • Become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression.
  • Display signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts).

If one or more of these signs occurs, parents need to talk to their child about their concerns and seek professional help when the concerns persist. With support from family and professional treatment, children and teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to a more healthy path of development.
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Based on the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry "Facts for Families" series:
2. National Institute of Mental Health:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Suicidal Behaviour
    From HONselect
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Suicide, Attempted

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Suicide, Attempted


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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002