September 14th, 2010
08:41 AM ET

My son hears suicidal voices. What can I do?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Tuesdays, it's Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, and an expert in the mind-body connection for health.

Question asked by Elizabeth Rooks of Seymour, Indiana: My 7-year-old son has lost touch with reality, I think. He says he feels like he's in a dream and nothing is real.

He sees things and hears voices telling him to do bad things. He is bipolar, has autism, anxiety disorder, ADHD, ODD and OCD. He has tried many medications that either don't help or make things worse. He says the voices are telling him to kill himself. What should I do? I'm so scared for him.

Dear Elizabeth,

Your son's situation is obviously a psychiatric emergency, and I am truly sorry to hear of his very serious problems. The fact that he has been given so many diagnoses points to two things: first, how common it is for psychiatric conditions to co-occur; and second, how difficult it can be to diagnose children.

Of the problem you list, the two I worry about most as a psychiatrist are the suicidal thoughts and the psychotic symptoms (i.e. hearing voices). It is unusual for children to kill themselves, but not unheard of, and children are so guileless that if they tell you they are thinking about killing themselves, they need to be taken with utmost seriousness. So job one is to make sure your son is safe. I realize this is easier said than done, but I want to highlight that first and foremost.

It is also very unusual for children to develop clear-cut psychotic symptoms. Psychosis usually develops after puberty, but there are plenty of cases of childhood psychosis. Again, like the suicidal thoughts, psychosis in childhood is extremely serious and often but not always indicates the presence of especially severe mental illness.

Let me tell you the most practical thing I can about your son's treatment. Despite the failures you've experienced, the most important thing you can do is not give up.

I've seen thousands of patients over the years, and I can assure you that the most powerful factor in good outcomes for people with serious mental illness is the commitment of family members to keep on trying.

Plenty of people who failed multiple treatments are now doing remarkably well because they hung in there and found a combination of interventions - usually built around medicine and therapy/social support - that worked.

So here is the take-home message. Just because treatment has not been effective so far does not mean that there is no hope or that treatment won't work. Failed treatment should lead not to discouragement, but to a deepened commitment to searching for interventions that will help your child.

When you do feel discouraged, try to imagine all the patients I have treated, or advised on, who had their lives turned around for the better when the right treatment for that particular patient was finally found and instituted.

soundoff (171 Responses)
  1. Dude

    My daughter is now 18 years of age and was diagnosed as being Bipolar when she was 13. It was horrific to see the way she was and it terrified me to death. I was so scared and afraid of what she might do to herself. She was put in a hospital a few times because of the cuts she gave herself. It took quite a few medicines over the years until they found the right one to balance her out. Also taking some common vitamins and changing her diet helped drastically. She is doing much better and her bouts of depression are still there at times but nowhere near what they used to be. You have to just hang in there with them through thick and thin. I am a big guy 6'4, 255 lbs, but i felt so diminutive compared to what my daughter was going through. I felt so helpless and again i was scared to death. I love my daughter and will do anything to help her.

    September 14, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Anna

    It's annoying to see people such as Gloria giving us – those who consider themselves true believers – a bad name. No wonder people hate Christians. I consider myself a true believer because I don't hate God for anything (I can't. I've tried really hard but found that I can't), I believe the bible is a GUIDELINE, and I believe that God will give me the strength I need (mental / spiritual) to accomplish anything I do.

    H3ll I've lifted a huge tv off of me (by myself) that wieghts twice as much as I do the other day. I've even tried lifting it and couldn't get it to budge. I was talking to my mom over the phone (I needed to vent). Next thing I know I managed to get it off of me (It had fallen).

    God heals the spirtual aliments. Docs heal the physical aliments. Call me whatever you like. Say I have an imaginary friend. My response would be "At least I got a friend".

    September 14, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      I am a true believer of Christ. What have I done wrong? I’ve only stated the word of God in hopes that people will see the truth. I hate no one. Only Christ knows the true heart. And God heals both the spiritual and physical ailments.

      “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases …” (Psalm 103:2)

      “But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there; and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15)

      September 14, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
  3. Anna

    Prayer calms the mind and the spirit. God, to me, is someone who is willing to share my burden. Whether he exists or not. I've accompished many things because all I had to do was ask "God please lend me your strength to get through (insert whatever)". And I've always seen results. Most were not obvious nor immediate. But I can't NOT believe in God. Too many good things happen that I can't chalk up to coincidence, luck, or karma. I wish I could. I even tried to HATE God and found that I couldn't no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to hate him for taking my big sister away from my mom when she was mere minutes old (she had a heritiary bone disease that was predominate in females). My mom didn't even get to hold her.

    People, particularly the non believers, always blame God for the bad things. What about the GOOD things?

    September 14, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      You are contradicting yourself. You call yourself a true beliver, then within the span of minutes you write "Whether he exists or not."

      Don't ever doubt that Christ is real.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
    • JFWilder

      "Don't ever doubt that Christ is real." – from Gloria. Don't worry Gloria...I don't doubt that Christ is real...cause I am 100% positive he's not. Nope....I hold no doubt.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse |
    • Gloria

      JF Wilder,

      You lose nothing by getting close to God. You lose everything by not believing.

      John 12:48
      The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
  4. Cheryl Cee

    Um, no I am quite certain it is you. Now call your Dr because your meds seem to be running low. Run along now...nothing more here for you to see.

    September 14, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. See the Truth

    I think what we all need to realize is that one can NEVER change the religious mind of someone. Those who are locked in their beliefs be they religious fundamentalism, or other can never have their mind opened to greater vistas nor greater realities.
    Everyone is responsible for their own beliefs but be aware where they come from. If they come from a place of exclusion and judgement and condemnation then they truly speak fro themselves. If they come from a place of tolerance and openness and accepting that their may be higher reality/God then that will speak for itself.

    September 14, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      See that's where your wrong.

      Nothing is impossible for JESUS CHRIST.

      But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

      September 14, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse |
  6. S.PhD

    I agree with someone's previous comment: Voices are NOT psychiatric, her son NEEDS divine intervention. Meaning Jesus!

    For those in 'denial', there is an unseen spiritual war, where the 'devil' is truly the arch liar and wants everyone to believe there is no God or Satan. [Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it can't exist.]

    I'm a scientist (in the biological sciences) and from what I have learned from the intricate pathways of a single cell (most of which will NEVER be figured out) to the incredible detail of nature and living animals,etc, is that there MUST be a GOD and Creator (just like a wristwatch cannot just magically appear, and it's not even as complicated to make as a single cell or protein). I feel sorrow for those who cannot see beyond man-created 'science' and see that God truly exists

    (and he really does bless/discipline those who love and believe in Jesus- my entire life is a prime example of this).

    September 14, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      Amen S.Phd.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:04 | Report abuse |
    • Mizz Givens

      It is irresponsible to say that people who experience psychiatric symptoms are being influenced by the devil. People get mental illness, and it sucks, and it's not fair, but it is a reality and that doesn't mean they're possessed.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
    • Gloria

      Mizz, It is not irresponsible to speak the truth. This boy is hearing voices that say to kill himself. Satan is tormenting him, and only the POWER OF CHRIST can heal him from this.

      Mat 17:18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
      Mat 17:19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
      Mat 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
      Mat 17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  7. Nadine

    I don't have any children and feel the pain of many of you crying out for deliverance. I'm no believer in prescription drugs to cure some of the detrimental psychological issues, but there is a God in heaven who can bring healing and deliverance like no other. When everything else fails, "try Jesus". Much prayer to all and I seek the powerful hand of God to move on your behalf.

    September 14, 2010 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      Amen Nadine.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
  8. JFWilder

    Hey Gloria....did Christ favor the Washington Redskins the other day and make Dallas drop the football just before halftime the other day?

    Why is it that Christ or God always plays a part in a win, but doesn't get blamed for making the losing team drop the "hail mary" pass at the end of the game? That's at least the take of the atheletes all the time. You don't hear them saying "well...we would have won, but God made me drop the ball.".

    Your banter is so evident you've been practically hypnotized by religion and can't see anyone else's view. It is you that is the blind one.

    September 14, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      You say I'm speaking "banter?"

      What you speak makes no sense.

      If you read the bible, and seek God you'll see the truth.

      September 14, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  9. Ollie North

    Don't let your child watch Fox News, even more important keep them from listening to Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Boycot Fox sponsers and your child may not want to die.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Steve Jobs

    he hears voices??? get him an ipod

    September 14, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. JFWilder

    No Gloria...we are not the same...but we find your banter equally offensive...and equally funny how blinded you are to your own words. Come on now....really...are you really that blinded? Can you NOT see that there are other points of view out there that are equally as strong and convicted to their belief system that you will NEVER convert them? We don't want conversion...don't bother trying. We want this kid to get better...and for medical science to do what they are able, rather than wait for your faith and fantasy to help. Fine...pray as you want...but let's get a doc on him now. Prayer can't hurt, but not getting a doc to this kid will kill him sure as (insert the other word for dog doo here).

    A person who believes in magic juju or voodoo also has equal conviction to their belief....are you going to sick your dog-god on them too? A dyslexic person worships DOG. A blind person will never see your light.

    Enough already...I actually have work to do that will benefit someone real, not imaginary.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. janet narine

    Gloria, Kudos to you but the Bible does say that the gospel is nonsense to those that are perishing. So save your breath(?)
    fellow believer. Jesus is and will continue to be Lord whether the world accept it or not. God Bless you.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      To those unsaved, hell is a horrible place to dwell for eternity. If me quoting the Holy Word of God even sparks a small light in the hearts of the unbelivers, then I hope it leads them to realize that Jesus Christ is the only way, and the only one that saves.

      September 14, 2010 at 17:14 | Report abuse |
  13. Jimmy James

    On the risk of sounding ugly, you need to get off the computer and take your son to get help. If your child is that sick, with so much ailments, you need to get away from the cyberworld and help him focus on the real world - with real doctors.

    September 14, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Krissy

    A few questions:

    1. I thought bi-polar illness could not be diagnosed until age 18. Can somebody give me some insight on the validity of diagnosing a child so you w this horrible illness. Thank you!

    You are sorely misinformed about the Catholic faith.

    Which faith do you identify with because you seem to be spouting a lot of gobblity goop.

    Demons that have fled? Ytou have seen them? Really? Hummmm. You must be special. Please tell us more about your visions and why God chose you to witness this fleeing of the demonic demons as soon as you mentioned Jesus Christ.

    Your visions are the ones in need of medication ans treatment by a highly skilled and qualified psychiatrist. You sound schizophrenic to me in more ways than one. Hearing voices and seeing things that aren't really there are classic hallmarks of this disease. Please get some professional help. You really do need it.

    September 15, 2010 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      Do Catholics praise Mary in the form of a statue, when God explicitly said in Exodus 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

      I am in a Christian, and I believe that Jesus Christ paid for our sins on the cross with the blood he shed. I also believe that he resurrected, and that one day he will come for those that repent and accept him as their savior. I praise Christ and only Christ.

      Regarding the demon issue, the Bible says: Luke 4:35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. And yes, I have seen them, and yes there is power in the name of Jesus Christ. They hate hearing that name, and they flee. Honestly, this isn’t something I prayed to Christ him to give me the ability to see these things. BUT, I’m through with questioning why. Only Christ knows all reasons, and if you are close to Jesus, then yes you too can rebuke demons in Jesus name, and do other things for Christ as well.

      And Krissy, I don’t need medication. God is my medication, he is my everything, and he is and always will be there for me. I hope that one day you honestly see the truth, because Jesus will come again soon to take his believers with him. God Bless.

      September 15, 2010 at 08:03 | Report abuse |
  15. Susan Ashley, Ph.D

    The first problem this child and mom have are that they do not have an accurate diagnosis. A child cannot have bipolar and autism and adhd and anxiety and ocd and odd. Someone does not know how to diagnosis this child. Mental disorders have a large overlap in symptoms, which is why an expert is needed to determine which disorder is causing the symptoms. ashleypsychology.com

    September 15, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      You are correct Susan. I have been wondering about how how many clinicians are or were treating this boy and how he got so many diagnosis and medications. It sounds like his treatment is a mish-mosh of everything. There is no telling what is a symptom and what is a side effect (but certainly the command hallucinations are a very serious symptom.)

      September 15, 2010 at 12:41 | Report abuse |
  16. Robert

    To those of you who think this boy needs only prayer, you will soon be praying for the the deliverance of his soul into heaven. His torment alone will get him there. You will be praying over his dead body after he jumps out of a tall building or from a high level bridge or after he hangs himself or shoots himself in the head. I have seen all of these things happen in young kids. . . . . . command hallucinations can be irresistible. They scream loudly, unavoidably, and inexorably at their victim who can't ignore or get away from them no matter what he or she does. These voices probably scream filthy, nasty, degrading obscenities that your son has not even let on to you because of their vile nature. He may kill himself just to get away from these low remarks. Your boy feels helpless and compelled by the command hallucinations. You need to get him to a psychiatric emergency room immediately.

    September 15, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      Robert your first few line of comments are horrible. Suicide is of the devil, beause life is from Christ. Yes, I stand my ground and completely believe that Jesus Christ can heal this child.

      Psalm 30:2: O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me

      September 16, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse |
  17. Steve

    You seem like a good person and clearly one with strong faith. (You are a bit undereducated when it comes to understanding catholics obviously-no we dont worship Mary).
    Also, I do believe that prayer to God can lead to healing, but medicine is important too. You are somewhat silent on that subject, but the Bible is not. Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 38:4-5 God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent man should not neglect.

    September 15, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      Steve, I've been learning more about Catholics lately, and I still do not understand as to why they praise Mary above Jesus. And I still disagree on the whole Mary statue thing.

      Also I posted this above: Jesus does heal, but I never said to ignore medicine completely. But in an extreme situation like this I believe that this boy is being tormented by demons, and that he needs Jesus Christ to heal him.

      September 16, 2010 at 08:04 | Report abuse |
  18. Krissy

    We, as Catholics, DO NOT worship a statue of Mary. We are HONORING the Mother of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. You are taking a verse out of context as opposed to taking the Scripture as a whole.
    You need to be more educated before you decide to trash the Catholic faith.

    September 15, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      Honoring, worshipping, it's all the same. You bow down to a statue of Mary, when it can do nothing for you. Only Christ can. Mary was a sinner like all of us (Romans 3:23) 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;

      September 16, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse |
  19. Frank

    "He is bipolar, has autism, anxiety disorder, ADHD, ODD and OCD. He has tried many medications that either don't help or make things worse."

    This poor kid sounds like he is already a victim of the medical establishment. If anything, the drugs are probably making him worse, if not causing this all together. I'd recommend finding a good therapist who isn't so quick to pump him full of pills. This kid should be allowed to express how he feels inside and have those close to him support him and understand them. Then you can work on a solution together to make it better.

    As to the spiritual aspect: I am not a Christian at all – I am a Pagan, as I do think that there's a lot more to life than this. I think there are beings out there who do like to mess with people (just like there's people who love to torment others) and that factor should be kept in mind. Children, as a rule, haven't been as brainwashed as adults have been into thinking that 'this is all there is'. They are much more in tune with things.

    One of the biggest problems with the medical establishment is that they ignore the spiritual realities of the Cosmos. They focus on the physical as if we are just meat robots. This has caused much grief.

    A simple spiritual exercise that can be done is just to surround the person who is having problems with a white light that is love and protection. Visualize it nurturing and surrounding the person. You can call upon whatever positive being you wish to be with and guide the person (a Deity/Deities, angels, spirits, ancestors – whatever you believe in, as long as the being is positive and comes from a place of love and/or protection).

    Of course Gloria is a fundie Christian kook and her kind should be ignored. Fanatics like her know nothing of spirituality.

    September 16, 2010 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria


      A pagan? Are you serious with the white light? That is a false religion/witchcraft from the satan. You need to pick up the Holy Word of God and see the truth.

      Ezekiel 22:28 (NIV) "Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says '–when the Lord has not spoken."

      2 Thessalonians 2:3 (NIV) Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

      2 Timothy 3
      1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

      2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

      3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

      4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

      5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

      6For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

      7Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

      September 16, 2010 at 08:13 | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Shut up, moron. You're not getting anywhere with your preachy crap.
      Oh, and Satan's my bitchy bottom. We totally 69 every night while Yahweh videotapes it for YouTube and Jesus does lighting. Ave Satanas.

      September 18, 2010 at 06:01 | Report abuse |
    • Gloria

      To Frank,

      Don't forget: every one on this planet will bow and confess to God. Everyone...

      God Bless

      September 25, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse |
  20. Krissy

    Gloria. Catholics most certainly DO NOT bow down to a statue of Mary. Where on earth do you get your information?? You can stand by your statue/worship claim all you want but YOU ARE WRONG. Accept it. I'm Catholic and you aren't. Who is more right here. Obviously the person who is a practicing member of the faith. Not somebody who sees demons. Having a statue of Mary is not different than having a picture of Mary, your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your father, or your brother. Please become more knowledgeable about a faith different from your own before you belittle another's beliefs.

    September 16, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gloria

      Krissy, do you not do a hail mary, and pray with her name in it? That still is worshipping whether you want to acknowledge it or not. You say I'm wrong, and I say Jesus Christ is always right. Pick up the bible and compare what your catholic faith teaches you to God's word- and then you will see the truth. Yes, I have seen what Christ has allowed me to see, and I am still grateful. Because there is power in the name of Christ, and demons do flee.

      God Bless.

      September 16, 2010 at 18:36 | Report abuse |
  21. Krissy

    Hail is a GREETING as in the word Hello...try again. You ARE wrong. We sing "Hail to the Chief (as in the President...) Do we WORSHIP the President? I think not. Again I say...try again...

    September 16, 2010 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. chemtrails

    Electromagnetic radiation sickness might play a part in your son's symptoms, as well as food allergies to genetically engineered foods and gluten. Also, anytime a drug enters the body, it takes a long time for the body to get those toxins out of the brain. If your child is being given one drug after another, these drugs are having a combined, synergistic effect that is completely unknown to medical science. It would be a good idea to try going drug-free, and seeking cognitive behavior therapy instead. Drugs, whether combined, or just one, can have devastating effects, like causing suicidality, homicidality, along with uncontrollably impulsive behaviors, and even sleep-walking, and people doing dangerous things in their sleep. BEWARE!

    October 7, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Mrs.Sayles

    My step son came to live with me and his father a little over two weeks ago.. We use to get him and his big brother ever other weekend.. Three weeks ago he got beat by his baby sitter he was hurt soo bad he had bruises bite marks and cuts all over his body.. The law was called and the sitter is awaiting on court now.. So now he's 30 miles away from her and his mother... He's always been a troubled child and diagnosed with ADHD and is on vivance 30mg... For the past two weeks his behavior is worse than it's ever been. This past weekend while at his moms he pulled a knife out on his family told his Nona he was going to chop off his legs. He slapped his mom in the face and was out of control.. We picked him up the next day. He has confided in me alot and keeps telling me the devil tells him to kill his family I said jaden who is he telling u to kill he said daddy u and Madison.. ( she's my 22mth old daughter) I'm scared now!!! Also he blinks his eyes fast and grinds his teeth and clinches his hands tight and crys and screens no devil I will not kill her..

    August 24, 2011 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Kathleen Stinson

    Please get this child psychiatric help now. He needs immediate treatment for what appears to be psychotic episodes and the poor child is clearly in agony and trying to communicate this to you. The beating may have set off these worsening symptoms. Tell this poor child you love him and will get him help with the voices–that other people have had them and learn to make them stop using medication and learning to talk back to the voices. The earlier the intervention the better. God speed.

    August 24, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Marc

    Haha, the bible thumpers here are delusional.

    November 7, 2016 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Sanil

    The child brain would have been very delicate absorbing the data like a sponge.the inner voice is a shock of an experience the child must have had inside the four walls or something outside. This forms a kind of cyclic pattern and inner voice to kill himself is a suggestion which is auto piolt run.
    The best possible way to get out is to show the child a place of extreme peace and security maybe a temple visit or a good place. Tell him another story to replace that his favourite pet or a cartoon figure is tell him to kindle himself .the art is to replace the sentence with a postive one and to make him belueve it. With meditation this technique works 100%. If you address it now with a little help of medication and counselling with a change inbenvironment of that energy maybe a person or an event that triggers the emotions repeatedly he can free swing out and forget it

    July 6, 2018 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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