Suicidality in young children is a growing concern that must be addressed by parents and or caregivers. It is important that signs of distress in your child are taken seriously, even if it may seem like your child doesn’t understand what they are saying. Studies have shown that suicidal ideation and attempts can occur in children as young as 5 years old. Raising children in the Age of Information means our children now have more exposure to potentially dangerous influences than we may have had. This makes it essential that parents be proactive in addressing these issues as they arise.
How serious is this?
Adults must understand that children who express suicidal thoughts or behaviors are not simply seeking attention. These are serious cries for help and should never be written off as “normal” childhood behavior. Understandably, many young children lack the emotional flexibility and coping skills to handle stress, anxiety, and trauma, which can lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
It is crucial to seek professional help immediately if your child expresses any of the following warning signs for suicidality:
● Increased impulsivity
● Withdrawal from friends and family
● Giving away beloved possessions
● Talk of self-harm or suicide
While your fears may cause you to hesitate or tell you to wait it out, remember that every second counts in preventing suicide. Speak to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional who specializes in working with children. If your child is already seeing a therapist, it is important to notify the therapist as soon as possible.
One of the most important risk factors for suicidality in young children is exposure to trauma. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children who had experienced multiple forms of trauma were at a significantly higher risk for suicidal ideation and attempts than those who had not experienced trauma. Additionally, children who had experienced trauma were more likely to have other mental health conditions, such as OCD or anxiety, that further increased their risk for suicidality.
OCD’s Role in Suicidality
Depending on what they are exposed to, whether through media or life events, children with OCD may experience intrusive thoughts about harm, violence, or death that can become difficult for them to control. These thoughts can be persistent and distressing, leading to feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and shame. As a result, children with OCD may experience suicidal ideation, and in some cases, they may attempt suicide as a way to escape their distress.
In addition to intrusive thoughts, children with OCD may also experience other symptoms, such as excessive worry, avoidance behaviors, and compulsive rituals. These symptoms can interfere with a child’s daily functioning, social interactions, and academic performance, leading to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem as they get older.
It is essential to create an open and supportive environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Encourage your child to communicate openly and honestly with you, and listen without judgment or criticism. Validate your child’s emotions and reassure them that they are not alone and that you are there to support them through any challenges they may be facing.
It is understandable that some parents may be reluctant to seek help, fearing that it could reflect poorly on their parenting or that their child may be stigmatized or labeled. However, the consequences of ignoring suicidal ideation and attempts can be severe. If you are concerned about your child’s safety, prioritize your child’s well-being by consulting a trained mental health professional. There are several resources available for families and communities who are dealing with suicidality in young children, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.