Depressed children ages 4 to 6 who think and talk about committing suicide understand what it means to die better than other kids, according to new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Such children with suicidal thoughts and words — what psychiatrists call suicidal ideation — were more than three times as likely to think about death as something caused by violence than young children with depression who did not think or talk about committing suicide.
The study is published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“The historic take on young children and suicide has been that they have no idea what they’re talking about, that maybe they’re repeating something they’ve heard or doing it for attention,” said senior investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Psychiatry. “Our findings refute that. It really does seem that children expressing suicidal ideation understand what it means to die, and they understand it better than their peers.”
The researchers studied 139 children — 22 of them were depressed and expressing suicidal ideation; 57 had depression but no suicidal thoughts; and 60 didn’t suffer from depression — finding that those with suicidal ideation had the most developed understanding of death.