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Question of the week: Do elementary age children die by suicide?

 
 

 

 

Recently a pediatrician friend of mine sent me an article about a ten-year-old dying of suicide. It happened in January of this year and was featured on an ABC affiliate TV station. No one wants to think that children as young as eight or nine years of age would be at risk for suicide or even think suicidal thoughts.

Most of us think of childhood as a carefree time; free of problems and stress. Even those of us that know children are hurting, have high stress levels, and are burdened with problems don’t think young children are capable of understanding life and death situations such as suicide.

Very little research has been done on younger children. Suicide in general is underreported and it is even more so in children. In the Time magazine article, “Why Young Children Are Dying by Suicide” we read, “Younger kids were also more likely than their older peers to have relationship problems with family members or friends.”

The same research was used in a CBS News report titled, “Suicide can strike children as young as five.” CBS News reported “’Adults need to realize that school-age children as young as 5 kill themselves,’” said Dr. Gregory Fritz, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School. Dr. Fritz goes onto say, “Many people thought that little kids couldn’t possibly feel as hopeless as might be required to want to take one’s life.” We now know with all the stress and homes splitting that little children as young as five do feel hopeless many times.

Children seldom leave suicide notes, and they typically have less access to suicidal methods (e.g., guns, pills). When child suicides do occur, they often are officially reported as accidents. However, Dr. Fritz said that when a young child talks about suicide, the adults need to take it seriously.

Situations that cause children to think about suicide

According to Allie Sauls, a child counselor at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants in the ABC video on the ten-year-old who died by suicide, there appears to be four main issues with children dying by suicide

  • Pressures at school
  • Social media
  • Problems at home
  • Bullying

Motivation for suicidal behaviors

Some children put a lot of thought into the act of suicide. They are rarely impulsive. In an article “Children and Suicide” from the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Canada we read, “Children often have the intent to cause self-injury or death regardless of a full comprehension of the lethality or finality of the act. They may just wish to end their emotional pain without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. Although child suicides are infrequent, many children attempt suicide. These attempts are a major predictor of future suicide (in adolescence and adulthood). It is crucial to identify those children at risk as early as possible.”

Red flags for suicide

  • A change in behavior
  • Loses interest in things
  • Is being bullied at school or in the neighborhood
  • Has experienced loss through death, divorce, or friendship, etc.
  • Destructive behavior such as running into traffic, jumping from heights, scratching or mutilating oneself
  • Suicidal themes in artwork, school work or drawings
  • Talks about death and dying

From the article “Not a Child”, “Every year about 12,000 children aged 5-14 years old are admitted to psychiatric hospital units for suicidal behavior. Prepubescent children who have attempted suicide are up to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide again in adolescence.”

So the answer to the question, “Do elementary age children die  by suicide?” is yes they do.

Next in this series on suicide

“A call for help”  This post will address the things we need to keep in mind when ministering to children who might be suicidal along with ways to talk to them, what to say and not say.

“Suicidal myths” Learn ways to effectively minister to this hurting segment of children.

 

Disclaimer
The information presented in this article is for general information and should not be considered specific advice for any potential suicide situation. Always involve a church leader and/or mental health professional in the event you encounter a person or child who you believe might be considering suicide. Remember, you are not a mental health professional and should not attempt to diagnose or treat a person who is considering or discussing suicide. Get help quickly! National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

A personal thanks goes to Barbara Wright, LPC, CCPS retired from Norman Behavioral Health Group for her contributions to this series on suicide in young children.

Retired Licensed Professional Counselor Certified Child Development and Parenting Specialist
Norman Behavioral Health Group
3625 West Main Suite 100
Norman, OK 73072

 

 

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on December 9, 2014.

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9 thoughts on “Question of the week: Do elementary age children die by suicide?

  1. Every parent should take the time to read this!! To know the signs. Even if the children in the family seem to be okay always leave the door open. You may never know if anything is bothering them. Always take time to know the signs and to pay attention. After a suicide you will be asking why and by then it is to LATE.

    • Thank you Eva for your comment. I’ll add that every children’s minister needs to read it so they can be aware also.

  2. During 16 years in the ER I saw many children being seen in the ER having made suicidal statements. In the vast majority of these cases they represented a cry for attention with no apparent true threat for harm to themselves. However, even in the cases, the thought existed. Thanks for another great article and something that every parent needs to read and everyone who works with children.

    • Thanks Matt. From the private comments I’ve received this is a very important subject. Maybe if everyone who ministers to or works with children had been educated on this subject children could have been saved

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