Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing

Suicide and Self-Harm

The importance of having access to emotional support from friends and family in these situations cannot be overstated. Whilst difficulties at home and an unstable family background contribute to increased risk, those in care, with no current family at all are at an even greater risk. It is important to also bear in mind that previous suicide attempts are a useful predictor of future behaviour and in assessing risk details about previous attempts and how serious they were should be sought. In addition, a history of mental health difficulties such as depression may be a contributing factor.

Triggers that lead to suicidal and self harming behaviour are varied. These may be current difficulties such as:

  • Trying to cope with a bereavement or loss
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Feeling misunderstood and worthless

These feelings can often lead children/young people to withdrawing from engagement with others and other aspects of their lives, and thus exacerbate feelings of not being understood and being alone. This can lead to them engaging in risk taking behaviour which may be considered antisocial. Coupled with drug and alcohol use, this will contribute to an increased risk of self harm and suicide. Be aware of possible warning signs such as expressing feelings of hopelessness and despair about the meaning of life, drawing or writing about suicide or death and statements such as “does it hurt to die?” “I wish I was dead”, or “no one cares if I live or die”.

Over time it is important to monitor changes and useful questions to consider when determining risk are: what is the young person experiencing? How long has it been going on? What impact is it having on his or her life?

Responding to young people at risk of suicide and self harm involves listening and taking what they are saying seriously rather than dismiss a possible cry for help as purely attention seeking behaviour. This only serves to reinforce feelings of being misunderstood and dismissed. It is important to empathise and to ask questions whilst staying calm. If there is an immediate risk, remove any means of harm (if possible) and get medical help, making sure to stay with the person until help arrives.

Guidance on suicide and self harm can be found in the London Safeguarding Children Board Child Protection Procedures – http://www.londonscb.gov.uk/procedures/