My son is very emotionally volatile and when he's throwing a temper tantrum, he often says he wishes he were dead, he wishes I were dead, or suggests that he should kill himself. We have discussed his feelings, and I can't ascertain how much of what he says is punitive for my benefit and just said out of anger, or how much he really means it.
I know that as a child, I sometimes thought -- and may even have said -- that I wished I were dead. How serious are these emotions and should I be alarmed? If so, what next steps should I pursue to get the help my family needs. We don't have any specialists in child psychology in the small town where we live.
Depression in children can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug use, and even suicide. Since there is no child psychologist or psychiatrist in your town, I would encourage you to take a trip to the nearest city in which there is a child mental-health clinic or a children's hospital with a child psychiatry department. With childhood depression, it's better to be safe than sorry. A good comprehensive evaluation, even if it rules out depression, will help you know what to do and what to say when your son exhibits volatile emotions or when he talks about suicide. Extremes of irritability and aggression, rather than a sad mood, are quite common in children who are depressed. There might even be some other condition that's causing these symptoms. It's good to check it out. Before you go, you should take a look at the following websites, where you'll find some very helpful information about depression in children.
LD Online, www.ldonline.org
National Mental Health Association, www.nmha.org