The tragic news about a 10-year-old Kentucky boy who took his life because he was bullied at school is unfathomable. Childhood is supposed to be a care-free time in life.
Unfortunately, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34, according to Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s not something you hear about often, but it happens more than you would think,” said Jessica Winberry, health educator for The PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and an instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid.
The causes are not easy to pinpoint. “Suicidal behavior is complicated and rarely the result of a single issue,” said Winberry.
Who’s at risk?
Mental health issues that can lead to suicidal behavior typically develop in adolescence. Winberry said one of the biggest precursors is experiencing a traumatic event. “It may not seem significant to others, but if the person perceives the event as traumatic, it can have a negative and lasting effect on mental health.”
There are many other suicide risk factors, including:
- Family history of depression or suicide
- Sexual and gender identity issues
- Low self-esteem
- Academic struggles
- A lack of family and social support
- Experimenting with drugs or alcohol
- History of sexual or physical abuse
- Being bullied
- Increased risk-taking behavior
- Involvement in child welfare system, juvenile justice system, homelessness or extreme povert
Warning signs of depression or possible suicide risk
Identifying warning signs can be tricky because teenagers are moody. “Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior and something more serious,” said Winberry. She said to look for sudden shifts in behavior such as:
- A loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Sleeping a lot or not sleeping enough
- Negative mindset
- Social isolation
- Being secretive
More extreme behaviors include:
- Self-injury such as cutting
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Giving away possessions
- Not having plans for the future
- Preferring to be alone most of the time
Many people think that asking someone about suicide thoughts will plant the seed to carry it out. But that’s not the case, according to Winberry. “If you suspect there’s is an issue, talk to the child. Ask him if he’s thinking about taking his life.”
Recognizing and treating depression in young kids is crucial, before it becomes worse.
“Early intervention is key,” said Winberry. “Ask how they are feeling in a non-judgmental way. Don’t discredit their feelings. Just try to listen.”
What can parents do?
Encourage positive activities. There are some “protective factors” – activities that make youth depression less likely. These include team sports, having a mentor, spirituality, regular school attendance and a good support system of family and friends.
Be alert. Know the warning signs and keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn.
Keep the lines of communication open. Express concern, support and love. If your teen confides in you, show you take those concerns seriously. Don’t minimize what your teen is going through—this may lead to a sense of hopelessness.
Take emergency action when needed. If you think your child is contemplating suicide, get help immediately. Baptist Behavioral Health can refer you to a psychologist or child and adolescent psychiatrist. If it is crisis situation, take your child to the closest Emergency Department. If you aren’t sure if you should take your child to ER, you can call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). There’s also a number that young people can send text messages to 741-741. Texts are answered very quickly.
Attend Youth Mental Health First Aid Training. Youth Mental Health First Aid, a free 8-hour training course teaches laypeople how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge, or who is in crisis. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan on how to help young people in crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders.
You can register for Youth Mental Health First Aid Training by clicking here.