Suicidal ideation occurs when a person suffers from recurring, obsessive thoughts about how he or she would kill him or herself. These thoughts can range in severity from fleeting considerations without actual intent, to the development of detailed plans where there is intent to follow through.
Sadly, many children and adolescents suffer from suicidal ideation; it is the most dangerous symptom associated with childhood depression. It is easy to disregard comments made by children regarding suicide because many people hold the common misbelief that it is just the child’s or the adolescent’s way of attempting to get attention. But these types of comments should never be thought of as attention-seeking behavior because the consequences of doing so are too severe.
It is estimated that, on average, 94 suicides are completed every day in the United States, with one person attempting suicide every 38 seconds. According to The Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24, and is the fourth leading cause of death amongst children between the ages of 10 and 14.
Causes and Risk Factors of Suicidal Ideation
The causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation in children and adolescents can vary based on the age of the children suffering from it, the duration of time in which they have been experiencing it, the environment by which they are surrounded, and the intensity of the thoughts themselves. A combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors may also play a role in the onset of suicidal ideation.
Genetic: Genetic factors are believed to play a large role in the development of suicidal ideation. A family history of depression has been known to be passed down through generations. Some children inherit the depression that leads to suicidal tendencies from their parents, some from their grandparents, and some from as far back as their great-grandparents. Regardless of who passes it down, there is a genetic component to its onset. Results from studies done at Harvard University have reported that more than 50% of children who have parents with depression will develop symptoms of the condition before reaching the age of 20.
Physical: Chemical imbalances in a person’s brain, including a decreased level of serotonin, have been noted as being related to the prevalence of suicidal preoccupations. Similarly, if a person is abusing substances, he or she is actively causing the chemicals in his or her brain to become altered, therefore allowing substance abuse to be classified as one example of something that can cause the onset of suicidal ideation.
Environmental: When children and adolescents are made subject to unhealthy environments, they are at risk of developing unhealthy mental and emotional thoughts and behavior patterns. If they are raised in environments where they are exposed to things such as violence, substance abuse, and various other forms of abuse, they will most likely begin to develop a low self-esteem which can ultimately lead to depression and thoughts of wanting to commit suicide.
Other extraneous environmental factors can also play a role in the development of increased suicidal ideation. Things such as economic declines and, especially for adolescents, reports of celebrities having committed suicide can cause people to start contemplating the act themselves.
- Family history of depression
- Family history of successful suicide attempts
- Family history of violence
- Suffering from major depression
- Suffering from severe anxiety
- Substance abuse
- Low self-esteem
- Suffering from severe medical problems
- Being subjected to physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
The signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation will vary based on the age of the child suffering from it, as well as based on his or her individual personality characteristics. Some examples of various behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may be indicative of the fact that a child or adolescent is suffering from suicidal ideation can include:
- Increased alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Verbally threatening to hurt oneself
- Acting reckless
- Participating in risky activities
- Talking and/or writing about death excessively
- Dramatic mood changes
- Giving away possessions
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Panic attacks
- Noticeable changes in physical appearance
- Significant weight gain or weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Preoccupation with death and dying
- Belief that death is the only way in which one can end the pain he or she is experiencing
- Problems with short-term memory
- Extreme feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things one used to be interested in
- Severe anxiety
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling as though there is no purpose in existing
Effects of Suicidal Ideation
When people suffer from chronic suicidal ideation, the likelihood that they are going to begin attempting to follow through on those suicidal thoughts increases. The ways in which individuals may attempt to kill themselves can vary greatly. Depending on the method that people use, they can suffer from a variety of negative physical effects, including:
- Brain damage
- Total organ failure
- Failure of a specific organ
Unfortunately, the presence of suicidal ideation has a tendency to exist alongside the majority of other mental illnesses. In other words, when children and adolescents are preoccupied by thoughts of suicide, they are more than likely suffering from another type of mental disorder. Examples of these disorders can include:
- Major depression
- Other depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Other personality disorders
- Substance abuse
It is important to remember that all is not lost for your loved one if they are in fact suffering from suicidal ideation. With proper care and treatment, suicide can be prevented.