Suicidal feelings in children and young people
The above Suffolk Mind video titled 'Understanding Suicide', helps explain why someone, whether they are an adult or young person, may feel suicidal due to unmet emotional needs.
If you know someone in immediate danger of taking their life Call 999.
If the person is emotionally distressed and you are worried about their mental health. Call the First Response 24hr helpline (for people of all ages in Norfolk and Suffolk) on 0808 196 3494.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings - the facts:
- Suicide is the act of intentionally taking your own life.
- Suicidal feelings can affect anyone of any age, gender or background, at any time.
- There were around 187 deaths of young people (0-19), recorded by a corona as caused by suicide, in the UK in 2017, (Office of National Statisitics)
- Overdosing (self-poisoning) is the most common method for attempted suicides, and hanging for completed suicides.
Spotting the signs that a child or young person is struggling to cope
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
- 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
- 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:
- Take what they said seriously - don’t ignore it as attention seeking, they are trying to communicate something to you.
- 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.
- Express curiosity - find out what it’s about and why they feel this way.
- Is the problem within your scope to help with? – or is there someone else who can help?
- Does the problem require support from a professional?
- Make a judgement on their lethal intent – do they need urgent help?
- Communicate to others - including professionals so they can support you and understand if your child happens to mention it to them.
- 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.
Who can I talk to for advice about a child or young person’s mental health?
Parents, carers, and professionals can call:
- PAPYRUS (Hopeline) - helpline 0800 068 4141 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: 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 - Call 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?
For professional advice (non-emergency) call NHS 111 or contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hub (0345 600 2090).
If they are in immediate danger of taking their life:
- Call the First Response 24hr helpline on 0808 196 3494 - If urgent mental health support is needed.
- 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.org) Or 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.
Talking to your child/young person about suicidal thoughts
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 these 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
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’
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:
- Another close family relative
- Their teacher
- Their GP or school nurse (For them to contact their school nurse see ChatHealth)
- Young Minds Crisis Messenger Service: Text 85258 (24/7)
- The Samaritans: Call 116 123 Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org (24/7)
- Childline: Call 0800 1111 (24/7)
- The Hopeline (PAPYRUS): Call 0800 068 41 41 Or text 07786 209697. (Open Mon-Fri 10am to 10pm, Weekends 2pm to 10pm.)
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): helpline for boys and men: Call 0800 58 58 58 (Open every day from 5pm – Midnight.)
(These helplines are free and confidential for children and young people to talk to someone anonymously.)
Resources to support children and young people
Suicide prevention resources:
- Suffolk Young Life Saver Suicide Prevention fold-out card - ‘Is Life Getting Too Much?’ 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: email@example.com For information about the Suffolk Life Saver Campaign go to www.healthysuffolk.org.uk
- 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 - 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.
Childline coping with Suicidal Feelings - advice page aimed at more younger children.
Resources for schools and professionals:
School staff and professionals should 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