Kids and Suicide

A recent report from the Pediatric Academic Society says from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of children ages 5 to 17 who were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions more than doubled.  15 to 17-year-olds accounted for 50.4% of them, 12 to 14 year-olds for 36.9% of them and 5 to 11-year-olds for 12.7% of them.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24.  It is the 10th leading cause of death for elementary age kids.

The research also revealed there is a sharp increase at the beginning and ending of school years.  This could be due to bullying and abuse at school.  Another factor in the increase could also be coming from cyber-bullying with the rise in social media.

Much of the awareness and discussions are being spurred by Netflix's series "13 Reasons Why."  The show is centered around the fictional suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who leaves behind cassette tapes laying the blame for her suicide on various actions of different students.  The series culminates with the girl slitting her wrists.

Common warning signs for suicide include:
  • talking about suicide
  • being preoccupied with death in conversation, writing or drawing
  • giving away belongings
  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • aggressive or hostile behavior
  • neglecting personal appearance
  • running away from home
  • change in personality (such as from upbeat to quiet)

Problems that increase the chances of suicidal thoughts include:

  • depression or another mental health problem, such as bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) or schizophrenia
  • a friend, peer, family member or hero (such as a sports figure or musician) who recently attempted or died by suicide
  • a disruptive or abusive family life
  • a history of sexual abuse
  • a history of being bullied
Problems that may trigger a suicide attempt in children and teens include:
  • possession or purchase of a weapon, pills or other means of inflicting self-harm
  • drug or alcohol use problems
  • witnessing the suicide of a family member
  • problems at school, such as falling grades, disruptive behavior or frequent absences
  • loss of a parent or close family member through death or divorce
  • legal or discipline problems
  • stress caused by physical changes related to puberty or chronic illness
  • withdrawing from others and keeping thoughts to themselves
  • uncertainty surrounding sexual orientation
Another important thing to note is this.  Most of the younger children with mental illness who commit suicide had attention-deficit disorder, not depression.  In children ages 5 to 11, 60% had ADD or ADHD and 33% had depression.  In children ages 12 to 14, 66% had depression and 29% had ADD or ADHD.  This suggests that children who commit suicide may be more vulnerable to respond impulsively to interpersonal challenges.

As ministry leaders, it is vital that we are educated about this and know what to watch for.  It is also important that we be able to help parents who come to us with questions.  Let me be clear.  This does not mean we should try to treat kids who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or try to personally give professional counseling to them or their parents.  This must be done by a professional counselor.  But we should know what to watch for and have a list of licensed counselors we can refer families to.  And of course, we can pray with and for the child and their parents.  It is extremely important that we take all threats of suicide seriously and seek immediate treatment for the child or teenager.