Suicidal Ideation Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation is an important part of the effort to get treatment for a child or adolescentAt Little Creek Behavioral Health iConway, Arkansaswe provide comprehensive, individualized care for young people who have been struggling with thoughts of suicide. 

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

When a child or adolescent struggles with suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide, it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

But not all young people who are having thoughts of suicide have a mental health challenge. Some children and adolescents are dealing with difficult external influences in their lives, like abuse, trauma, bullying, parental divorce, or constantly changing caregivers.  

Regardless of why a young person is struggling with suicidal ideation, it is likely that they feel helpless and even hopeless, and they may believe that dying by suicide is the only way they can end their suffering. 

Suicidal ideation can sometimes be a young person’s way of trying to manage emotions and thoughts that are too painful and intense to cope with on their own. But with effective, age-appropriate residential care, a child or adolescent who is having thoughts of suicide can live a long, healthy life. 


Statistics about suicidal ideation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) have reported the following statistics about suicidal ideation among children and adolescents in the United States: 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

There are many influences in a child’s or adolescent’s life that may cause them to have thoughts of suicide. These are just some of the factors that can increase a young person’s risk for suicidal ideation: 

  • History of trauma, abuse, or neglect 
  • Experiencing a recent tragedy or loss 
  • Struggling with an untreated mental health disorder 
  • Living with a chronic medical condition or pain 
  • Drug or alcohol use 
  • Having close family members who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or mental illness 

When a young person is having suicidal thoughts, there usually isn’t one single cause behind their struggles to cope with the emotional pain they are feeling. Suicidal ideation may be brought on by a culmination of factors in a child’s or adolescent’s life and is a sign of severe distress that should not be ignored. 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of suicidal ideation

Before a young person acts on the suicidal thoughts they are having, they may exhibit some warning signs that the people around them should look for. Some signs and symptoms that a child or adolescent is suffering from suicidal ideation might include: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Acts recklessly or impulsively in ways that could cause their death 
  • Talks about what a burden they are 
  • Researches suicide methods 
  • Starts giving away important possessions 
  • Starts putting important affairs in order 
  • Says goodbye to the people they love 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Eats more or less than they used to 
  • Has trouble falling or staying asleep 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Has extreme mood swings 
  • Feels anxious or agitated 
  • Feels guilty or ashamed 
  • Feels intense emotional pain 
  • Withdraws from the people closest to them 


Effects of suicidal ideation

If a child or adolescent in your care is struggling with thoughts of suicide, the effects can be lifethreatening. But timely, effective treatment can help a young person start to heal from any damage they might have experienced from their battle with suicidal ideation. These are just some of the negative effects a child or adolescent might experience if they don’t receive help for suicidal thoughts 

  • Serious injury or death by suicide 
  • Damaged relationships with those closest to them 
  • School failure or dropout 
  • Poor performance at after-school job or job loss 
  • Run-ins with the law that lead to arrest or incarceration 
  • Development of a substance use disorder  

Just because a young person is having thoughts of suicide does not necessarily mean that they will experience any of these effects. By helping a child or adolescent get the help they need at the first signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation, you can minimize their risk for experiencing any long-term negative effects. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have suicidal ideation

A child’s or adolescent’s suicidal thoughts might be associated with an additional mental health challenge, or a co-occurring condition. Mental health concerns that commonly co-occur with suicidal ideation include: 

  • Depression 
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Panic disorder 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval