Children and suicide

Children in acute stages of distress may self-harm, think about suicide, plan a suicide or even attempt to commit suicide.

There is no single cause of suicidal behaviour as each person’s situation is different.

Why children may feel suicidal

Stress and depression are the two major contributors to suicide. Children in care can have very high levels of stress due to social and family factors such as being bullied at school, isolation, and loneliness.

Some children become stressed about their personal relationships, their sexuality, the welfare of their biological family, or by high expectations at school.

Often there is an accumulation of previous life stressors in a child’s life, such as those associated with grief and loss from being removed from their birth family. Other life stressors may relate to past sexual or physical abuse.

Children in care have complex backgrounds and traumatic experiences. Managing emotions is extremely difficult and they often feel overcome by feelings of anger, grief, sadness, and despair. For many, decisions about who they live with, where they go to school, who they can and cannot see are made by others. This sense of powerlessness and lack of control can feel overwhelming. Such feelings may lead to depression.

Depression affects a person’s thinking in many ways. They may believe that there is no help or way out of their seemingly impossible situation. They may also feel that no-one cares whether they live or die. These feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness can overwhelm them as they struggle to find a way out of their situation.

Myths and facts about suicide

Myth Fact
Talking about suicide with someone will give them ideas and increase the risk. Many people who feel overwhelmed by their problems are extremely relieved if they are able to talk to someone in a caring and non-judgemental way. This allows them time to talk about their feelings and to seek help. It also conveys to them that they are not alone and that others care about them and will be there for them.
People who attempt suicide are only doing it for the attention. Any suggestion of suicidal thoughts or threats of suicide should always be taken seriously.
People who attempt suicide don’t really intend to kill themselves. Although not all people who attempt suicide succeed, a large number will attempt suicide again. The risk of suicide for people who have previously attempted suicide is estimated to be 40 times higher than that of the general population.
If someone makes you promise to keep their suicide plans secret you must do so. No matter how close your friendship with someone, you must always seek help if they threaten to kill themselves.
Once someone has decided to kill themselves there’s not much you can do for them as they will do it eventually. A suicidal crisis represents a person’s cry for help rather than a wish to die. A part of the person wants to live and a part wants to die. With help, the person can be encouraged towards life. If the person receives the help he or she is seeking, an attempt is less likely. With professional assistance, people can move beyond seeing death as the only option.

Signs a child could be thinking about suicide include

  • talk of death or suicide, even jokingly
  • expressions of hopelessness or being trapped
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • expressions of rage or revenge
  • dramatic changes in mood
  • research into suicide methods
  • making final plans such as saying goodbye or giving away belongings
  • they have been depressed for some time then suddenly appear to be really well

If you are concerned that a child is displaying suicidal thoughts or behaviour, it is important to seek immediate assistance. Take all threats seriously.

If you are worried about the possibility of suicide

If you believe that a child is thinking about ending their life there are a number of practical things you can do to help.

Listen and talk to them

  • talk with them, let them know you are concerned and want to help
  • asking shows that you care
  • asking will help them talk about their feelings and plans – the first step to getting help
  • talking about suicide will not make them take action

Take action to get help now

  • tell them that there are other options to suicide
  • don’t agree to keep their suicidal thoughts or plans a secret
  • don’t ignore any indications or conversations about suicide
  • don’t assume they will get better without help or that they will seek help on their own
  • contact your care team and seek specialist assistance
  • support the child to attend their appointments with their psychologist or therapist, go with them to the appointment wherever possible
  • seek support for yourself

There are many organisations offering information and support to kids struggling with emotional pain, and their families.

Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 65 94 67) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

You can read more information about depression here.

You can visit these websites for more information.

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To become a foster carer your ability to care and nurture a child is what really matters.
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