Suicide in children and teens: Overview

 

Suicide can occur as a result of many different kinds of problems. Those who experience suicidal thoughts, and act on them, are often suffering overwhelming emotional pain. Often, they see suicide as the only way to end their suffering.

Who is most at risk of suicide?

In Canada, death from suicide is unusual in children below age 14. However, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults aged 15 to 24. This tells us that the risk of death from suicide in childhood and adolescence increases with age.

Suicide attempts are more common in girls, but suicide completions (death by suicide) are more common in boys. Suicide attempts may lead to injury or long-term disability. Children and teens who have attempted suicide at least once before are at increased risk for suicide completion.

Children and teens who harm themselves are also at an increased risk of suicide.

What causes suicidal thoughts and behaviour?

No single factor on its own causes a suicide. Suicidal thoughts and behaviour can occur in children and teens from a wide range of backgrounds. In addition, suicide and suicide attempts typically result from many factors. These include stressful life events and existing mental health conditions.

Stressful life events

Stressful events may lead a young person to feel overwhelmed or trapped in a situation where they cannot see a way out. Examples of stressful events include a relationship break-up, conflict with family or friends, bullying (online and face-to-face), failing a test or experiencing a loss such as a death or the divorce of their parents. For some people, a stressful event may be “the final straw” that leads to thoughts of ending their life.

When a child or teen is experiencing an ongoing stressful event, such as a conflict with family or friends or ongoing difficulties with school performance, it can sometimes be more difficult for them to identify it. They may be embarrassed to confide in others or may worry about their parents’ (or others’) reactions. 

It is important to help your child think about any stressful events in their lives and the impact that these might have on them. Talking to your child about stressful events lets them know that you are interested and available to them for support when they need it.

Mental health conditions

A number of mental health conditions can increase a teen’s risk for suicide. These include:

Key points

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults aged 15 to 24.
  • Children and teens who have attempted suicide at least once before are at greater risk for completing a suicide attempt.
  • A number of stressful events may lead to a child or teen feeling trapped and thinking that suicide is the only way out.
  • Certain mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may also contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
  • Talk to your child or teen about stressful events in their life, and show that you are there to support them.

Further information

For more information on protecting your child or teen from suicide or self-harm, please see the following pages:

Self-harm in children and teens: Overview

Suicide risk: Signs and symptoms

Suicide and self-harm: How to talk to your child about their emotions

Suicide and self-harm: How to protect your child

​Marijana Jovanovic, MD, FRCPC

Daphne Korczak MD, MSc, FRCPC (Paediatrics), FRCPC (Psychiatry)​

2/11/2016

Resources

Statistics Canada, 2015. Suicide: Statistics by age and sex​. Government of Canada.

Support for children and teens

In Canada, children and teens in distress can contact KidsHelpPhone on KidsHelpPhone.ca or call 1-800-688-6868.​​​



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