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Suicide and Children - By Chris Gearing

Friday, January 22, 2010

Suicide and Children

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

January 22, 2010, TXA 21 News

Today’s story about the apparent suicide of a nine-year-old Colony boy has once again raised the issue of depression and suicide in children.

Why do children kill themselves?

Suicides of Children Are Increasing: Although childhood suicide is relatively rare, it is increasing. For children under age 15, about 1-2 kids out of 100,000 will commit suicide. For kids between 15-19, the rate jumps to 11 out of 100,000.

Fourth Leading Cause of Death: Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10-14 and the third leading cause of death for teenagers between 15-19.

Values Change: In general, our society is more narcissistic and more callous toward individual concerns. Troubled children are often overlooked in a society concerned with achievement, a struggling economy and overworked parents. The child in a family with busy, overworked parents is often marginalized and neglected. Depression flourishes in such situations and the child gives up all hope.

Here’s what makes a child more likely to commit suicide:

Depression is Epidemic: If a child has clinical depression, he is seven times more likely to try suicide. Depression is at epidemic levels now and strikes a full decade sooner than it did a generation ago. Severe depression recurs in about half of those who have had it once and since it strikes so early in life, there are higher rates of reoccurance.

Motivations for Suicide are Complex: The motivations for either attempting or completing suicide are complex but the main motivations include a desire to escape depression and hopelessness, debilitating anxiety or a situation they regard as being hopeless such as being bullied or abused. The older the child is, the more likely it is that the suicide is connected to interpersonal conflicts.

But do bullied kids have higher rates of depression?

Increased Suicidal Ideation: Bullied kids have a much higher rate of depression and the effects linger into adulthood. Bullying victims are much more likely to think about suicide. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. We know that 34% of elementary students are bullied and that bullying peaks in middle school. It is a group activity with a mob mentality that is crushing to kids who are victimized.

You may be wondering what happens to kids psychologically who are bullied or who bully others?

Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm is as severe as a broken bone. Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety. However, research reveals that the act of bullying actually claims three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses. Bullies have more conduct problems, anger and alienation from school and the community. We find that witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others and allow it to happen without a second thought. The long-term effects of bullying for all groups can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.

What happens to the parents who lose their children through suicide?

This kind of loss is emotionally “disfiguring.” They will most certainly experience a post traumatic stress disorder that will need to be treated. When a child dies, the trauma lingers for years and de-regulates the parents’ emotional and cognitive functioning. Traumatic bereavement includes guilt, devastating depression and a lingering sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Here’s what you can do about bullying:

Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence. This can lead to tragic consequences in the future.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential to stop bullies for good.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about bullying. Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.

Educate yourself about the signs of depression:

  • Talking About Dying: Any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself or other types of self-harm
  • Recent Loss: The loss of someone through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self confidence, self esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed.
  • Change in Personality—sad, withdrawn, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in Behavior: Cannot concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in Eating Habits: Loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control: Acting erratically, harming self or others
  • Low self esteem: feelings of worthlessness, shame, overwhelming guilt , self hatred, “everyone would be better without me.”
  • No hope for the future: Believing that things will never get better, that nothing will ever change.

For more information about Dr. Sylvia please go to


"The Optimistic Child" by Dr. Martin Seligman

American Academy of Pediatrics

The American Psychological Association

The National Association of School Counselors

American Association of Suicidology

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