If you are worried about your child, whatever their age, it is good that you are paying attention. Let’s talk about warning signs and give you the tools to act appropriately.
Warning signs of depression in children:
- Crying spells
- Isolation – not wanting to talk, not wanting to be around their friends
- Lack of pleasure in things – do not want to play with their toys, their pets, their friends
Talking about suicide is okay. Talking about or asking about suicidal thoughts does not increase them, so ask. “Are you thinking of suicide at all?” An open-ended question like this invites the child to talk about what they have been thinking, so you know what is on their mind, if they choose to share.
If your child says they have been thinking about suicide, or thinking “it would be better if I were not alive” or “sometimes I think about being dead” or “it would be easier if I were just gone”, this does not mean they are suicidal. These are normal thoughts that many people have, no matter their age. Therapy would be a good intervention at this point. Your child is saying they are in pain and need relief.
Probe to the next level “Do you have a plan to kill yourself? Do you want to kill yourself?” Use plain language like this and be direct. You need to know the information and asking like this will get you what you need. If your child has a plan and a desire to attempt suicide, intervene immediately. Google “mobile crisis team [your county]” to find the number for who to call. A mobile crisis team will come to your home, interview you and your child, and make a determination as to the severity of the suicidality. If warranted, they will take your child (or refer you) to the nearest psychiatric admitting hospital. If not warranted, meaning there is not immediate danger, they will encourage you to seek therapy for your child, which you should start as soon as possible. To find a therapist, you can search Psychology Today for your city and insurance, but be aware that many therapists (like myself) use telebehavioral health and you can see them from anywhere in the state, so you have additional options if you open your search to include telehealth.
If your child is cutting, that is, you see marks on their arms, legs, or torso, ask about it. “Why do you cut yourself? How often do you do so? What is the benefit you get from that? When was the last time that you did it? Are you taking care of the wound so they heal properly and don’t get infected?” Cutting is not suicide. Please take cutting for what it is: a way to release emotion, or a way to feel something when numbness is all that they are feeling. Cutting behavior should always be accompanied by therapy because either cause is a sign of deep sadness.
If you have a child that is hurting, having your own therapy is a benefit to you and to the family. You can learn how to support your child, have an outlet to express your frustration or sadness, and get support as you go through this tough time for your family.
Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Florida and Georgia. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Twitter & Facebook.