Rates of children thinking about, planning, and attempting suicide are higher than ever before. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24 years. In 2015, 1.12 million children were seen in emergency rooms because of suicidal thoughts or attempts. That number is double from what it was in the mid-2000s. Those statistics aren’t improving. They’re increasing every year.
A study found a mitigating factor in childhood depression is having a strong social network at school. Researchers found significantly lower suicide attempts in schools where teens had both friends and trusted adults they could talk to about personal things.
Peter A. Wyman, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and lead author of the study believes looking at social networks is a new focus in suicide research. In the instance of the study above, knowledge garnered can enable schools to develop programs that foster these relationships.
Lyndsay Wells, the community education program coordinator of the Vancouver Island Crisis Society tells Parentology, “A sense of belonging is particularly crucial for teens because of the developmental period they are in. When they have more meaningful, healthy connections, they’re less likely to act on thoughts of suicide.”
Wells’ advice for schools looking to implement a connected program includes considerations to bear in mind. “It’s important to be connected to the current culture of youth. What are they listening to, what are they watching?” She also emphasizes the importance of ensuring an inclusive culture and having an integrated suicide prevention program.
Because children don’t always verbalize that they’re thinking about harming themselves, Wells says it’s important to be aware of warning signs. These include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Saying they feel they’re a burden
- Decreased social activity and becoming isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Expressing the feeling of being in unbearable emotional pain
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Trying to find a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger or episodes of rage
- Expressing a sense of hopelessness
- Changes in sleep habits: either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep enough
- Talking about or posting online about wanting to die
- Giving away cherished objects
Parents who see any of these signs should talk with their child and ask them about their feelings and listen without judgment. While adults can look further down the road and see those things that feel overwhelming are often temporary, children have more difficulty with that. Never minimize feelings expressed by children.
Children need to hear that they are loved and valued. Reassure them that they’re not alone, and help is available.
Also, parents shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to professional help for both the family and the child dealing with depression.
A resource: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.