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Suicidal Ideation—Child

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Suicidal Ideation—Child

(Suicidal Thinking)


Thinking about or planning to take one's own life is called suicidal ideation.


Many things can lead to suicidal ideation. 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. It can also make stress much worse.

Risk Factors

Suicidal ideation is higher in children with:

  • Substance use problems
  • Any mental health problem, such as depression, ADHA, autism, or anxiety
  • A history of self-harm
  • A long-term health problem

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A lack of a support system
  • Poor coping skills
  • Major changes in a child's life, such as problems at school or with other people in their lives
  • Prior trauma or abuse
  • Being bullied
  • Prior behavior that was impulsive or violent
  • Past suicide in the family
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide
  • Taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants or anti-seizure medicines
  • Past suicide attempts
  • Easy access to items that could be used for self-harm, such as guns
The Brain.

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A child who is thinking about suicide may:

  • Talk about wanting to die or take their own life
  • Talk about feelings of despair
  • Plan for death, such as by giving away favorite items
  • Withdraw from family and friends

The child may also be:

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


The doctor will ask about the child’s symptoms and past health. Other people in the family may also be questioned. Physical and mental health exams may be done. This is often enough to diagnose suicidal ideation.


Treatment for suicidal ideation is needed right away. An adult should call or text 988 for the US National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for a free counselor for support.

A 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:

  • Treating mental, physical, and substance abuse problems
  • Making it harder to get items that may be used for self-harm
  • Building a support system of family, friends, and mental health experts
  • Building skills in problem solving, dealing with conflicts, and handling problems through nonviolent means


To lower a child's risk of suicidal ideation:

  • Follow treatment plans for mental health problems.
  • Teach children to avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Encourage children to talk about problems coping with stress.
  • Make it harder for them to get items that may be used for self-harm.




  • Cheung AH, Zuckerbrot RA, Jensen PS, Laraque D, Stein REK; GLAD-PC STEERING GROUP. Guidelines for adolescent depression in primary care (GLAD-PC): Part II. Treatment and ongoing management. Pediatrics. 2018;141(3):e20174082
  • Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/depression-in-children-and-adolescents.
  • 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.
  • Help for suicidal thoughts. NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide.
  • 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.
  • We can all prevent suicide. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Available at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.