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Suicidal feelings in children and young people

If you know someone in immediate danger of taking their life Call 999.

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Spotting the signs that a child or young person is struggling to cope

What causes someone to feel suicidal?

A child or young person may feel suicidal if they are struggling with low mood, anxiety or poor self-esteem, along with self-harming behaviour. If they have been experiencing feelings that make them panic, feel hopeless, stressed, worthless or question their purpose, and have been feeling this way for some time.

Things that are likely to cause or worsen suicidal thinking include:

  • Family history of suicide
  • Family conflict
  • Some form of trauma
  • Relationship breakup
  • Adjusting to a big change in their life, such as, economic loss of income in the family or moving to a new home.
  • Unsecure housing or homelessness
  • Money problems
  • Feeling inadequate or fear of failure
  • Addiction or substance abuse
  • LGBT
  • Young carer
  • Looked after child/child in care

The ten common themes found to be key factors in suicide by children and young people are: 

  • family factors such as mental illness
  • abuse and neglect
  • bereavement
  • bullying and cyber-bullying
  • suicide-related internet use
  • academic pressures, exam stress
  • social isolation or withdrawal
  • physical health conditions that may have social impact
  • alcohol and illicit drugs
  • poor mental health

 What should I look out for in my child/young person?

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Struggling with depression – see Depression in children and young people' advice page.
  • Their friends are worried about them or are trying to contact you.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about wanting things to switch off or to escape their life. 
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.  
  • An increase in reckless or agitated behaviour.
  • Becoming isolated or secretive when not usually.

Sometimes there are no noticeable warning signs that someone is planning to end their life. The circumstances leading up to a suicide attempt are different for everybody, and the reasons may never be fully explained or understood.

What precautions can parents and carers take to help prevent suicide?

  • Be aware of what to do in a crisis situation – know what to do if your child/young person has self-harmed, taken tablets or tied something around their neck by reading this guide from MindEd - 'What to do in a crisis situation'.

  • Lock away or monitor carefully all medications in your home – and other things that could lead to harm in your home.

  • Look out for hidden items in their school bag or bedroom - e.g non-prescription medicines.

  • Look out for any noticeable changes to their usual behaviour – sudden changes to their daily routine or eating and sleeping habits.

  • Be aware of what they’re viewing online – someone feeling suicidal will often search online for information about suicide - help materials, information about methods or posting messages with suicidal content.

  • Be aware of any unusual things they are ordering online - suicide related items – e.g. ladders, ropes.                      

  • Be aware of any negative social media activity - what they’re viewing or doing on sites like Instagram, Tumblr, AskFM where children can easily be drawn into negative sources of information and group activity. 

  • Ask about what emotional wellbeing support is available at their university/place of study if they are studying away from home.

How to respond when a child says they want to die?

It is becoming more common for primary school-aged children as young as 8 or 9-years-old, to say they want to kill themselves. Primary school-aged children lack emotional awareness to communicate how they feel so they might say this if they are frustrated or angry rather than wanting to hurt them self. If a child tells you they want to kill them self you should:

  1. Take what they said seriously - don’t ignore it as attention seeking, they are trying to communicate something to you. 
  2. Make time and space to listen and talk about what they have said - be clear that they cannot keep things that are dangerous a secret.
  3. Express curiosity - find out what it’s about and why they feel this way.
  4. Is the problem within your scope to help with? – or is there someone else who can help?
  5. Does the problem require support from a professional?
  6. Make a judgement on their lethal intent – do they need urgent help?
  7. Communicate to others - including professionals so they can support you and understand if your child happens to mention it to them.
  8. Make a Plan – for the next hour or day, with steps you can take to make your child safe. Include in this plan revisiting how they feel in the furture.

For professional advice call NHS 111 or contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hub (0345 600 2090). If there is lethal intent to hurt them self make an urgent visit to see a GP or take them to A & E.

What to do if you want to raise the issue of suicide with a young person?

  • Prepare yourself (if possible) - Know what to do/who to contact for help beforehand (print this page with contact numbers) and be able to drop everything to take them to get urgent help if they need it. Don't be afraid to talk to someone about suicide as this will not make it happen.

  • Start by asking “Are you ok?” - but ask this twice as our first automatic response is to say we’re fine when we’re not. Repeating this helps them to consider opening up about their feelings.

  • Explain that desperate feelings are very common and are short-lived - they can overcome these feelings and that talking about it will help them see things more clearly. 

  • Allow them to talk without interruption – listen and emphasise - don’t judge them. 

  • Don’t be afraid to be direct and ask the question - “Are you thinking about harming or killing yourself?”

  • Encourage them to talk to someone who can help them find support. 
  • Be yourself and show them you care.

Be aware of the minefields:

  • Children and young people will want to talk to you at all the wrong times. For instance, when you’re focussed on driving or in a hurry to get to work/school. Don’t freak out - stay calm and listen. It may be bad timing for you, but that moment has given them the courage to talk to you so don’t let it pass in case it doesn’t happen again!  

  • Talk to them openly about who they can talk to - they might want to talk to their close friends, but this can cause a negative effect on their friends and their friendship. Instead suggest they talk to a trusted adult from outside of the family. This avoids putting immense pressure on their friends which can put them in emotional distress as well (and cause a knock-on effect where the friends’ parent/carers become concerned). 

  • A child who is self-harming may be doing this as a coping mechanism or to communicate that they are in distress rather than to end their life. The link between self-harm and suicide is a complicated one because most people who self-harm don't normally want to die, but someone who self-harms are at increased risk of accidentally ending their life. For information on the different types of self-harm and further support see our Self-harm in children and young people advice page 

Resources for talking about feelings with children and young people

The NHS Choices website has a good advice page on how to start a conversation with your child tiled ‘Talking to children about their feelings’

MindEd-for families website has a resourceful section on Suicidal thoughts and Talking to My Child 

My child/young person won’t talk to me what should I do?

If your child/young person does not feel comfortable talking to you right now, invite them to come back and talk to you when they feel ready to do so or they can choose to talk to: 

(These helplines are free and confidential for children and young people to talk to someone anonymously.)

Who can I talk to for advice if I’m worried about a child or young person’s mental health?

Parents, carers, and professionals can call:

  • PAPYRUS (Hopeline) helpline on 0800 068 41 41 Or text 07786 209697) for free confidential support, information and practical advice if you’re concerned that a young person you know may be at risk of harming themselves.

  • The Emotional Wellbeing Hub helpline on 0345 600 2090, Mon-Fri, 8am to 7.30pm, (if you are in Lowestoft or Waveney contact the Point 1 Service) or make an online referral here. (Please be aware there is currently a waiting list for referrals so the Hub should not be your first point of contact in an emergency.)

  • The Wellbeing Service on 0300 123 1503 Mon-Fri, (excluding Bank Holidays) 8am to 8pm.

The above helplines should not be your first point of contact in a crisis – instead see below.

What to do if you’re worried a child/young person is suicidal?

If they are in immediate danger of taking their life:

Call 999 – Stay with them, or make sure someone is there with them until help arrives - if it is safe to do so. It is important that they are not left alone.

Or you can get help by:

• Taking them to your local hospital’s emergency department (A & E)

• Making an urgent visit with them to see their GP

• Taking them to your local Samaritans branch (For Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds branch walk-in hours go to: www.samaritans.orgOr call 116 123 (free, call any time)

My child/young person has attempted suicide, what do I do?

If the situation is getting worse, and you are worried about another suicide attempt, trust your instinct and share your concerns. Contact your GP, or any mental health professional involved with your child/young person’s care and assessment.

Don’t forget to look after your emotional wellbeing as this will affect you.

What can schools and professionals do to help?

School staff and professionals should be aware of how to recognise if a child/young person is at risk of suicide and familiarise themselves with this guidance on what to do or say – What to do if I believe a child or young person might be at risk of suicide’.

Papyrus has a #SaveTheClass campaign, where they have developed resources for teachers which includes a guidance - Building Suicide-Safer Schools and Colleges: A Guide for Teachers and Staff’ 

Other related resources available

Suffolk Young Life Saver Suicide Prevention fold-out card

‘Is Life Getting Too Much?’ - is a fold-out card to help support young people who are, or know of someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. Co-produced with local young people, it provides information and tips about how to keep well, talk to someone they are worried about, and seek support. Copies of the card can be requested by emailing: healthandwellbeing@suffolk.gov.uk 

For information about the Suffolk Life Saver Campaign go to www.healthysuffolk.org.uk/suffolklivesmatter

The Source website - for young people

The Source website provides information and advice on various health and wellbeing topics to young people in Suffolk, including advice if they are 'feeling overwhelmed or suicidal'.

Free suicide prevention training

The Zero Suicide Alliance website has a great training video available which includes 3 different scenarios in a difficult situation where someone is feeling suicidal. We recommend everyone watches this for good practice on what to do - Zero Suicide Prevention Training. They also have this handy guidance – Talking to someone who might be suicidal

Support for families affected by Suicide

The Amparo Suffolk Post-bereavement Support Service - supports families and individuals affected by suicide. 

Parentinfo website - contains some good advice about parent do’s and don’ts when talking to a young person.

Rethink - this website is worth a look if you’re a parent/carer, or professional wanting more information on supporting someone.

Young Minds – has a advice page for young people titled 'Suicidal Feelings'. Young Minds also have a 'Parent Survival Guide'.

Childline has an advice page aimed at more younger children about ‘Coping with Suicidal Feelings’.

 

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