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Mental illness and suicidal thoughts can affect people of any age and background at any time. Although children and young people may experience suicidal thoughts, very few actually attempt to take their own lives. However, if someone is having suicidal thoughts they are clearly feeling unable to cope and need help and support.

It can be difficult to know if a child or young person is experiencing suicidal thoughts as they often keep it to themselves. It can also be difficult to know what causes a young person to have suicidal feelings. Underpinning factors to suicidal thoughts are often similar in nature to those that may cause a child or young person to self-harm.  If a child is struggling with their mental health or having suicidal thoughts, it can affect the whole family. It can be very overwhelming for parents and carers to find out that their child is feeling this way.

Why do children and young people experience suicidal thoughts?

Here are some warning signs of suicidal feelings:

  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Deep depression and sadness
  • Losing interest in daily life
  • Having increasing trouble sleeping and eating
  • Feeling helpless or worthless
  • Self-harming
  • Feeling angry and that things can't change


Suicidal thoughts and feelings may stem from a range of issues, including:

Individual factors

  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Hopelessness
  • Substance misuse
  • Bereavement
  • Perfectionism
  • Exam pressure

Family factors

  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Neglect or abuse (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Parental separation and / or loss
  • Depression, deliberate self-harm or suicide in the family.

Social factors

  • Difficulty in making relationships/loneliness
  • Persistent bullying or peer rejection
  • Easy access to drugs, medication or other methods of self-harm.
  • Copied suicidal behaviour (contagion effect)
  • Difficult times of year e.g. anniversaries (bereavement; miscarriage; relationship breakdown)
  • Criminal behaviour associated with significant social stigma, e.g. offences related to child pornography
  • Being a victim of Child Exploitation, online sexual harassments or threats of exposure following compromising online behaviours.

Psychological factors

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Repeated thoughts or voices telling a person to kill themselves

How to support a child or young person experience suicidal thoughts?

It can be hard for children and young people to talk about their feelings, however it is important to ensure they have opportunities to share their worries with someone that they trust, and who can help them to see their problems in a different way. When enabling such conversations it is important to remain calm, to avoid displaying shock, surprise or disbelief and to actively listen to the child / young person’s perspective. When some understanding of the situation has been achieved, the listener should aim to support the child / young person to understand that suicide is not the only resolution to their feelings or difficulties.

Other key points include:

  • Be aware that it is unlikely that you will be able to take away their pain or immediately resolve their situation.
  • Encourage them to speak openly and help them identify a key trusted adults with whom they can talk and who can help them find support. Some young people may be reluctant to talk to a parent in case they ‘freak out’ or because the parent themselves suffers from mental health problems.
  • Help them build up a wider support network so they know who to contact 24/7 if they’re struggling, such as The SamaritansChildline Papyrus or the Young Minds Crisis Messenger.

MindEd provide some E-learning resources on the subject of suicide awareness and prevention which may be of interest to parents, carers and professionals.

If a person’s thoughts of suicide are particularly intense and they or someone else is worried that they are unable to stay safe from suicide, emergency support may be obtained from a range of sources.

Emergency help may be secured by calling the Police on 999, or by visiting a local A&E department. Calling the NHS on 111 can facilitate advice on where to get help, such as a walk-in centre or an out of hours doctor. They may also have information about ‘safe spaces’ that can be accessed in the local area when a child or young person is struggling to stay safe from suicide.

Facts and myths about suicide

Myth: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.

Fact: Almost everyone who attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Don’t ignore even indirect references to death or suicide. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” “I can’t see any way out,”—no matter how casually or jokingly said—may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Myth: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.

Fact: Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They are upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.

Myth: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them.

Fact: Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

Myth: People who die by suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.

Fact: Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.

Myth: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.

Fact: You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true—bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Further reading and resources

Local Services registered on the

Letter of Hope leaflet