Silent Struggle: Understanding and Addressing Suicidal Tendencies in Children and Teens

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Have you ever wondered how your kids deal with their thoughts and feelings while confronting enormous challenges? While it may be difficult to imagine young individuals grappling with dark thoughts, the truth is that many children and teens are undergoing internal turmoil, silently struggling with emotional pain. 

From academic pressure to family issues, they may be confronting a combination of stressors that can overwhelm their coping mechanisms. Amid the social stigma surrounding them, children and teens tend to keep silent about their struggles in fear of being judged. 

Children may worry that talking about their emotions or seeking help could lead to rejection, misunderstanding, or being labeled as weak or attention-seeking. There might exist a perception that their worries are trivial compared to what adults face.

This article will delve into suicide causes and prevention strategies in kids and teens, aiming to foster a caring society that actively listens and understands. Also, this article aims to involve parents, educators, and the community in helping young individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts. Together, society can extend hope, help, and healing to those who need it the most.

Understanding suicidal tendencies in kids and teens

Suicidal tendencies refer to thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that an individual contemplates or engages in self-harm intending to end their own life. This is not limited to adults; everyone, including young individuals, can experience stress, face difficult times, and have thoughts of suicide.

Statistics and prevalence of youth suicide

Among the most heart-wrenching aspects of society, youth suicide stands out as a significant global public health concern. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death among high school students aged 14-18 years. 

Between 2019 and 2021, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among boys showed no significant change. In contrast, girls experienced a rise in the proportion of those who seriously considered attempting suicide (from 24.1% to 30%), making a suicide plan (from 19.9% to 23.6%), and engaging in suicide attempts (from 11.0% to 13.3%).

The prevalence of youth suicide differs among countries and regions. In Korea, a research study indicates that girls expressed more suicidal thoughts than boys. Additionally, a study among college students in the US revealed that sexual minority students were two to three times more prone to report having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide.

Common risk factors and triggers

As children navigate the journey from childhood to adolescence, they often encounter a range of difficulties that can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Here are risk factors and triggers that increase the likelihood of children and teenagers having suicidal thoughts:

  • Mental health conditions;
  • History of self-harm or suicide attempts;
  • Bullying and peer pressure;
  • Academic pressure;
  • Family issues; and
  • LGBTQ+ identity.

Read more: Stop the Cycle: Understanding Bullying in Kids and How to Prevent It 

Role of mental health conditions in suicidal ideation

As previously mentioned, mental health issues have a major role in suicidal ideation among young people. Due to their difficulties, children may struggle to see a way out of their distress. Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair can lead them to consider self-harm or even suicide as a way to escape their pain.

Over 90% of adolescents attempting suicide have an underlying mental health issue, frequently linked to depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder. Without proper care and support, these conditions may worsen over time and lead to suicidal death.

Cultural and social factors on youth suicide risk 

The impact of culture and society on suicide risk is profound. Current cultural norms and societal demands pressure young people to fit specific standards. These dynamics shape their self-perception, self-worth, and community roles.

Trying to meet cultural ideals can intensify emotional distress, rendering young people more susceptible to mental health struggles and the risk of suicide. Several cultural and social factors contribute to this issue, including:

  • Stigma and mental health;
  • Help-seeking attitudes;
  • Media coverage of suicide; and
  • Cultural identity and discrimination (related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs).

Recognizing warning signs

Taking any warning signs seriously is crucial for the early identification and support of children and teens with suicidal tendencies. 

Behavioral signs to watch for

Behavioral signs can vary but may include expressing hopelessness or a desire to end their life. Some common signs include:

  • Social isolation: Withdrawing from friends and family, especially if they were previously sociable and outgoing.
  • Self-destructive acts: Engaging in risky behaviors such as reckless driving, substance abuse, or attempting dangerous stunts to harm themselves through self-injury.
  • Giving away possessions: This behavior may involve offering prized possessions, personal belongings, or sentimental items to friends or family. It can indicate a sense of finality and detachment, as they may believe they won’t need these items in the future.

Emotional indicators of potential suicidal tendencies

Emotional indicators often manifest as intense and overwhelming feelings that suggest the individual struggles with inner turmoil. Here are some emotional signs that parents and caregivers should recognize:

  • Continuous sadness that seems much bigger than the situation.
  • A lack of emotional expression or feeling distant from one’s own feelings.
  • Believing that things won’t improve and that there’s no way out of their current situation.
  • Strong feelings of being at fault or burdening others.
  • Experiencing increased restlessness or anxiety without clear reason.
  • Frequent anger or irritability that’s out of character.
  • Consistent sense of not being valuable or worthy.

Verbal cues and expressions signaling distress

Verbal or written expressions of death or suicide should be taken extremely seriously. Most children and teens choose to explicitly mention their thoughts of suicide or through written expressions, such as journals, social media posts, or creative writing, which also contain themes related to death or dying. 

Taking into account the behavioral and emotional signs discussed earlier, here are examples of statements children and teens might express:

  • “I don’t see a way out, so there’s no use in trying anymore.”
  • “Everyone would be happier without me.”
  • “I’m just causing trouble for everyone.”
  • “I feel so empty inside and can’t control my tears.”
  • “I wish I could just disappear.”
  • “I want to run away from everything.”
  • “I’m a complete failure and don’t deserve love.”

The significance of changes in academic performance

Experiencing emotional distress and being preoccupied with thoughts of suicide can lead to a drop in grades, missed assignments, and a lack of engagement in academic activities.

Research revealed that students who usually excel academically experienced heightened stress and thoughts of suicide compared to their academically struggling peers. It might be because of various factors such as:

  • Parent-child relationships;
  • Parental expectations; 
  • Future apprehensions;
  • Interactions with peers; and
  • Difficulties in academics.

A student’s performance directly impacts their emotional and behavioral well-being. Those who experience emotional and behavioral problems are more likely to attempt suicide, whether in a single instance or multiple attempts.

Supportive actions to address suicidal tendencies

Providing support for children and teenagers facing suicidal tendencies serves as a source of comfort, guidance, and a lifeline during their toughest moments.

How to approach a child or teenager about their feelings

Starting conversations about their struggles or suicidal tendencies requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach from parents. Ask open-ended and supportive questions to encourage a meaningful conversation. Here are some questions to consider:

  • “How have you been feeling lately?”
  • “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Would you like to share what’s been on your mind?”
  • “Is there anything you think I should know about what you’re going through?”
  • “Are there moments when you feel particularly sad or anxious?”
  • “Do you feel comfortable talking to me about your thoughts and feelings?”

Promoting understanding can create a safer and more supportive atmosphere for young individuals, providing them with the comfort and reassurance they need.

Creating a safe and non-judgmental environment for open communication

Fostering a nurturing and non-judgmental environment is a crucial responsibility of parents and caregivers. Cultivating an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and open communication lays the foundation for a place where children feel safe, valued, and connected.

Read more: Stefanie Lui Ten: Parent-Child Communication | Raising Parents #5

A home that feels like “home” goes beyond physical comfort; it encompasses emotional well-being free from judgment. Through this environment, parents can convey a powerful message of unconditional love and support. In turn, children are more likely to confide in their struggles, including thoughts of suicide.

The importance of active listening and empathy

Active listening is key; allow children to express their feelings without interruption. Give undivided attention and focus on their words, tone, and emotions. By truly listening and understanding, you can offer empathetic responses that show their feelings are valued and understood.

Involving family and friends in the support process

Family members and friends can bring valuable perspectives, offering different insights and understanding that foster a comprehensive approach to care.

Parents can arrange routine check-ins, family discussions, or gatherings where family members can share perspectives and suggestions to provide mutual assistance. This also can keep everyone informed and engaged.

Besides parents, teachers and adults in school should be involved in the support process. They should proactively work to ensure that each student has a designated adult they can confide in when facing challenges and receive timely intervention.

Seeking professional support

If you notice significant changes in how your child acts, feels, or how they’re doing overall, and these changes stick around for a while, it’s crucial to get help from professionals. Experts in mental health, like therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists, can understand the situation, figure out what’s going on, and give your children the right kind of support.

If your child is uncertain about talking to professionals directly, you can guide your child to call suicide and crisis helplines for help. These helplines are accessible 24/7, offering aid whenever needed. You can suggest calling together if your child is hesitant or grant them privacy if they prefer to do it alone.

Here is a list of suicide and crisis helplines that you can reach out to for support:

In conclusion 

The silent struggle of suicidal tendencies among children and teenagers is a grave concern that demands unwavering attention and action. Recognizing early warning signs, such as behavioral and emotional changes, fostering open communication, and creating a supportive environment are crucial.

Whether you’re grappling with emotional challenges or offering support to your loved ones, remember that you are never alone in this journey. Reach out, speak up, and know that caring hearts are ready to listen and support you. 

Your feelings are valid, and seeking help is a courageous step. You belong to a caring and understanding community that stands with you through thick and thin.

If you would like to see more resources on children’s suicidal tendencies, check out the Parenting Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Parenting Science Labs today.

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