‘Suicide is the leading cause of death in people aged 15-24 in many European countries’ - International Society for Suicide Prevention.
For World Suicide Prevention Day, we spoke to one of our members – Tim Smith, Child and Adolescent psychotherapist, about how Child and Adolescent psychotherapists think about suicide in their clinical work with children and young people.
What causes Suicidal behaviour?
There are a constellation of complex factors at play where we see suicidal behaviour, which can include factors external to the child or young person and factors that are more internal to them. The child, in effect, forces these issues to come to the surface, acting like a mirror. A suicide or suicide attempt can sometimes be a child or young person’s way of unconsciously communicating their difficulties. Children, young people and their families all need to get help at the right time to understand what has brought the young person to this point.
How do Child and adolescent psychotherapists understand suicidal behaviour?
As Child and adolescent psychotherapists, we look at the meaning of suicidal behaviour. It is important to assess whether there is intent - if the child is actually trying to kill themselves, or rather seeking to communicate something. Tragically, many completed suicides are accidents. Children and young people rarely think they're going to die, although, sadly, sometimes that is the case.
What can child and adolescent psychotherapists do to support children and young people experiencing suicidal feelings?
As CAMHS clinicians we need specialist assessments, the supported CAMHS structures and the time and space to unpick these risk factors and understand the below the surface dynamics. Given some children who complete suicide are not known to services we also need protected time to train and supervise staff in universal services to watch for the danger signs. Forms of self-harm such as cutting also need to be understood not just as a coping strategy but as actions that may indicate a child who is in a state of despair. We won't see suicide rates drop without it."
If you are concerned about a child or young person experiencing suicidal feelings please contact your child’s GP.
There are also a number of websites with useful resources for children and young people as well as parents: