What’s causing this spike in the suicide rates and what can be done to help children in need?
What’s Causing This Spike in the Suicide Rates?
It can be difficult to pinpoint exact reasons why more kids of this age group are committing suicide. However, it must be noted that in the United States, between 1999 and 2014, the overall suicide rate has increased by 24 percent. This points to the fact that suicides among the general population of the country are on the rise.
Researchers have identified a number of factors among younger children which could be responsible for the surge in the suicide rate. This includes things like bullying and its evolution to cyber bullying, children hitting puberty earlier, and social media.
But the precise set of factors and reasons why a person decides to take their life are complex. Many things could play a role in making the decision including family history, gender, mental health, race, and sexual orientation. In some cases even geography has been shown to play a role.
What makes this specific age bracket tricky is that the warning signs they display may present themselves differently than they would in older individuals. It has been shown that young children who have committed suicide are far more likely to have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorders as opposed to depression. This might indicate that in children, depression may present itself differently than in older individuals. This may make it difficult for doctors to pick up on mental health problems in children.
What Can Be Done
Irrespective of the specific factors that make an individual consider suicide, one thing is absolutely clear: schools and their staff play a crucial role in identifying students with potential mental health problems.
According to David Jobes, the head of the Suicide Prevention Lab at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. "Kids spend a lot of time at school ... it's where they live their lives. Suicide prevention has been focused on schools for a long time because it's a place where kids are and where a lot of problems can manifest."
He points that while many educators may not be comfortable with talking about suicide with students, it’s impossible to prevent something from happening if we don’t know that the threat is there. According to him, ‘saving lives begins with "asking a question."’
If suicide rates among young children are increasing, schools, medical professionals, and parents can all play a vital role in identifying children who are at risk. This begins with tackling some preconceived notions and myths that these individuals may hold; things that could potentially hamper their judgment and prevent them from helping children in need.
Jobes points out that there are several very common myths which are held by adults concerning suicide by adolescents. Holding onto these myths could prove to be dangerous, and therefore they need to be confronted in order to help children in need.
Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room: young children do in fact take their own lives. These decisions are more often than not, not impulsive, but well thought out. Children may begin dropping hints to their friends, teachers, or coaches through words or actions.
Some other myths that need to be addressed:
1. Suicide is caused by depression
Studies show that depression and suicide are not synonymous. While some of the people who commit suicide do so because of depression, others do so for a variety of other reasons. Things such as anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders could all have a part to play.
2. Suicides are impulsive
Jobes says that "People contemplate, think about it, imagine it, fantasize about it, write suicide notes, post things on the Web. After many days or weeks, [they] then perhaps make a fatal attempt. There is a major theory in the field that says that no suicides are impulsive. That there is always a history if you dig deep enough.”
He points out that impulsive cases are exceptionally rare. Kids who are thinking about suicide will drop some hints. Whether that involves telling their friends something, writing along certain themes in their essays in English class, etc. The signs will present themselves.
Children need to be told that in the event that one of their friends confides suicidal thoughts to them, they should tell a guidance counselor immediately.
3. Talking about suicide with someone will make them suicidal
Jobes says "There's already issues and struggles around mental illness within our culture and society. It's highly stigmatized, and suicide is even more stigmatized. It feels like something that's just best left unsaid or untouched, kept under the rug, and that's a problem in terms of saving lives. Because we need to ask, and we need to intervene to actually save lives. You need to be direct.”
4. You can’t prevent suicides
Suicide can 100% be prevented. This involves an identification of the thoughts, the right support, and treatment for the underlying causes. For many people, suicide is something they themselves want to avoid. That’s why they drop hints to people around them, in the hopes that someone will be able to reach out to them.
5. Young children don’t think about suicide
Studies show that this is absolutely not true.
6. As a response to suicide, a school assembly should be held
Children are very heavily influenced by their peers. That’s why it’s extremely important to deal with a suicide very delicately to ensure that there is no copycat behavior or reactions to a suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides schools across the country with helpful guidelines which are specific to schools. These resources are very helpful in terms of dealing with the after-effects of a suicide in a school.
Children who are directly affected by suicide must be dealt with on a more personal level in response to the tragedy. Having a one-off assembly won’t properly address the issue for all students.
To avoid copycat tendencies which are common in young children, it’s important to address the tragedy in a meaningful and effective way.
The fact that suicide rates are rising among middle school children is alarming. In order to prevent these rates from rising further and to save lives, schools, parents, and health care professionals must all work together to help children in need. This requires vigilance to notice the hints that a child may be dropping. If properly addressed, these children can get the help they need and young lives can be saved.