Suicide among children on the rise

EmotionWellnessIt is inconceivable that a six-year-old child would attempt suicide and want to end his or her life. Yet, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled that the recent death of a six-year-old child was indeed a suicide by hanging. An article in Black Doctors reported that there were healed ligature marks on her neck, which may suggest that this was not her first attempt to kill herself.

While there is not much known about suicide during childhood, according to Education.com, it has been on the rise for the last 20 years and rates have tripled. The rate of suicide in children is relatively low, and when compared with all age groups accounts for approximately one percent of all suicide completions. Between 1999 and 2006, nationally there were 33 children who killed themselves.

Suicidal thoughts are much more common in children, and nationally over 12,000 children were admitted to psychiatric facilities in 2010 after reporting they were thinking of harming themselves or others. Opinions vary widely about a young child’s ability to understand the finality of death, but hopelessness is certainly a factor in one’s giving up on life.

At one time, it was widely believed that children were happy-go-lucky and stressors of daily life had a minimal impact on their emotions. However, it is now known that children do experience depression and anxiety, which can be heightened by peer pressure or bullying, family conflict, trauma, mental illness, and academic struggles. The highest risk factors for suicide in children are a history of prior attempts and a history of mental illness.

According to Livestrong, an organization designed to promote wellness and prevent illness in individuals and in communities, depression or anxiety in children may be exhibited in many ways such as acting out, aggressive behaviors, increased physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches, increased or decreased appetite and fatigue. When a child as young as six experiences depression, it may be characterized by changes in emotions including irritability, anger, hostility, loss of interest, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, verbal threats to harm self or others, and self-destructive behaviors.

When a child develops suicidal thoughts, some of the first questions parents may ask themselves include: Did I cause this? Could I have prevented it? Is this somehow my fault?  Additionally, in their efforts to make sense of the loss of their child, parents may have a tendency to lash out at others, blaming them for their child’s condition. It is a challenge to accept that any loved one has committed suicide, let alone a young child.

Survivor Resources is a private, nonprofit organization in Minneapolis and St Paul and is committed to providing immediate and long-term emotional support for families that have experienced an unexpected death through homicide, suicide or accident. Margaret McAbee, director of survivor resources, can be reached at 651-266-5674 or 612-673-3951.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is a preventable public health issue. President Obama has echoed this sentiment and identified children’s mental health as a national priority, funding a number of initiatives supporting mental health services in the schools. The goals of the national strategy for suicide include:

  • Create supportive environments that promote health and empowered individuals, families, and communities.
  • Enhance clinical and community preventive services.
  • Promote the availability of timely treatment and support services.
  • Improve suicide prevention data collection, research and evaluation.

We can each have a role in suicide prevention using the following recommendations:

  • Take all threats seriously; no matter what the situation is, don’t ignore any mention of suicide.
  • Create a safe environment for people expressing thoughts of suicide.
  • Remove firearms/knives from the house, get rid of the pills in the medicine cabinet, and remove all items that can be used to harm oneself.
  • Help that person seek professional assistance; crisis mental health workers or hotlines can provide immediate guidance.

Resources

In Hennepin County, help is available through the the following 24/7 resources:

Child Crisis Team — 612-348-2233

Adult Crisis Team — 612-596-1223

Crisis Connection — 612-873-2222

Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.