Conditions + Treatments

Suicide and Teens in Children

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Throughout the past few years, the tragedy of youth suicide has become both a frequent front-page headline and a necessary topic of conversation for every family.
While suicide is more common in the late teen and early adulthood years—it’s the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States—suicide is also a threat for younger children. In fact, suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death in children between age 10 and 14; in recent years, national news coverage has reported children as young as 7 attempting suicide. 

Here’s what you need to know about youth suicide:

  • Between 12 and 25 percent of children and adolescents have thoughts of suicide at some point.

  • Behaviors and statements should always be treated with the utmost seriousness—and immediate action.

  • For every completed suicide among young people, there are as many as 100 suicide attempts.

  • While a suicide attempt may represent a genuine desire to die, it often is a desperate child’s request for help.

  • Children and adolescents often consider suicide because they feel so overwhelmed and hopeless that they can’t imagine things getting better.

  • Children of both genders and all ages, backgrounds and cultures are at risk for developing suicidal thinking and behavior.

  • Social isolation (lack of being plugged in with peers, activities, groups) is a major risk factor.

  • While boys are more likely to complete suicide than girls, girls are more likely to attempt suicide—and to tell others that they have either made an attempt, or are feeling suicidal.

The most prevalent risk factors for youth suicide are:

Losing a child to suicide is every parent’s nightmare. Your child’s suicidal thoughts, behaviors and statements should always be treated with the utmost seriousness—and immediate action.

But there is hope: Treatment by a qualified mental health professional can make a significant difference for a child who is feeling suicidal. Children’s Hospital Boston’s expert psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are here to help.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches suicide prevention

Children’s Hospital Boston’s Department of Psychiatry is a national leader in identifying, treating and working to prevent the full spectrum of mental health disorders affecting kids and teens, including:

Here at Children’s, we have developed several programs and therapies that not only treat kids and teens at risk of suicide, but also aim to prevent suicidal feelings and attempts in all children. Recognizing a need for better mental health support for children and families across Massachusetts and around the country, we’ve developed several programs that aim to educate kids, parents and teachers about suicide and its warning signs.

  • Every year, the Children's Hospital Neighborhood Partnerships counsels more than 2,600 young people and 400 parents and trains staff from several Boston public schools, community organizations and health centers.
  • The Swensrud Depression Prevention Initiative at Children’s aims to prevent and treat depression in school-aged children; to incorporate wellness into schools’ core curricula; and to train educators and parents about recognizing and responding to mental health issues.
  • Children’s psychiatrists have developed the Depression Experience Journal, an online collection of stories, pictures and personal reflections from kids, teens and families about what it's like to deal with (and recover from) depression—one of the most prevalent risk factors for suicidal thinking.
  • Children’s introduced a first-of-its-kind, youth-centered suicide prevention initiative in Boston schools. The program uses a peer mentoring approach to teach high school students about the warning signs of suicide and how to address them. 

In addition, our Department of Psychiatry maintains a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Emergency Psychiatry Service. The service is staffed by trained mental health professionals with special expertise in assessing and managing children and teens who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

If you are concerned that your child is in the midst of a psychiatric emergency, please call 617-355-6369 and ask for the psychiatrist on call; even if we cannot treat your child here at Children’s, we can refer you to other sources of help and immediate care.

Suicide: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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