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Can Young Children Be Suicidal?
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Can Young Children Be Suicidal?
POSTED ON MAY 31, 2018
POSTED IN INFORMATION
Over the years I’ve heard people, often professionals, say that young children can’t really be suicidal because they don’t understand the concept of death. Brian Mishara interviewed 65 elementary children and found out most first graders knew that dead people can’t come back to life and all the second graders understood the everyone dies eventually. However, many first graders and even a few fifth graders thought dead people could see and hear so their beliefs about death are a bit fluid.
in the same study, Mishara discovered that children in first grade understood what “killing oneself “meant and one even knew the word suicide. By third grade all but one understood the word suicide. Suicide between the ages of 5-11 is rare, but it does occur; about 33 children under the age of 12 will die each year by suicide.
Professionals who have worked with and studied young suicidal children believe the desire to kill oneself isn’t about wanting to die specifically but rather it’s the only way they know of to cope with their problems, mostly family relationships. There is also a correlation between attention-deficit disorder (with or without hyperactivity) and suicide, suggesting impulsivity is a factor as well.
I know that as a young child, from the age of five or six, I wanted to die. It’s true, I didn’t know how to handle what was going on in my life, I didn’t talk about it with anyone, and it was the only solution that came to mind. I also remember hearing about heaven and thinking that sounded pretty good to me. No pain, only joy and happiness – who wouldn’t want that? And there was only one way to get there, and that way was death.
As I grew older, I tried to think of other solutions. We lived in the country, the nearest town was five miles away, and the closest city was 25 miles away so running away wasn’t going to work. Besides, where would I go and what would I do once I got there? So that didn’t seem like a viable option. But death did and my suicidal ideation began to take shape and I started to think of ways to die.
By the time I was in high school, I was definitely suicidal. I came to the conclusion that the only way out of my surroundings and situation was to get good grades and then go to college but that was a long-term plan. I didn’t really think much about my future anyway, so maybe I’d get there, maybe I wouldn’t. I started hoarding pills and thinking about death more and more.
So why didn’t I attempt or die? There were several things. One, I didn’t know where my dad and brothers kept their guns or if I did, I couldn’t reach them or the bullets/shotgun shells so that restricted my access to means. And for whatever reason, no other methods occurred to me.
I also loved the outdoors. As I said, we lived in the country and half of our property was wooded so I spent a lot of times among the trees and with the chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits. To this day, if I am out of sorts, a walk in the woods will ground me. I love the smell of pine trees so I keep pine infused essential oil on hand. My first spiritual experience was lying on a bed of pine needles, looking up at the sky through the branches of the trees.
Finally, my dog Buttercup. When I was eight we rescued her as a puppy – she was a mutt – and she and I grew up together. Buttercup was my pal, my confidante, let me hold her and hug her, cry into her fur when I needed it, and could make me laugh in an instant. She was my best friend and I believe she also helped keep me alive. She even tried to sneak into my car when I was leaving for college my senior year. Oh, how I loved that dog!
I didn’t need studies to tell me young children do want to die and do think of suicide but it’s good it’s being studied and finally taken seriously. Pay attention if moods change or weight is gained or lost, sleeping habits change – these things are often indicators something is going on in a child’s life. Also, talk about it. Given that by age eight most children know what suicide is, when it’s shown in a show or movie, use it as an opportunity to talk about it. If nothing else, that sends the message to your child that you’re open and available to talk about things. That is a big deal. It may not seem so to you, but I know I would have loved having an adult I could talk to when I was growing up. Seemingly little things can have a big impact so please don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Luckily it’s rare in children, but by learning more and being open, we can make it even more of a rare occurrence.
Kennedy-Moore, Ellen. Suicide in Children – What Every Parent Must Know, Psychology Today, September 24, 2016.
Bridge JA, Asti L, Horowitz LM, et al. Suicide trends among elementary school-aged children in the United States from 1993 to 2012. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(7):673–677
Mishara, B. L. (1999). Conceptions of death and suicide in children ages 6–12 and their implications for suicide prevention. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 29, 105–118.
Sheftall, A.H., Asti L, Horowitz LM, Felts, A., Fontanella, C. A., Campo, J. V., & Bridge, J. A. (2016). Suicide in Elementary School-Aged Children and Early Adolescents. Pediatrics. , 138, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/09/15/peds.2016-0436.full.pdf
2 thoughts on “Can Young Children Be Suicidal?”
JUNE 2, 2018 AT 8:27 AM REPLY
I, too, wished to go to heaven to leave life. In kindergarten, I stepped off the top of a slide. The problem was my home life, abuse by my parents. Those work or interact with children on a regular basis need to also be watching, as parents may be the cause of a child’s desire to die.
JUNE 2, 2018 AT 8:33 AM REPLY
Thank you for sharing and I agree with you completely. Too many times it’s the home life that is the source of the trauma and suicidality. Teachers, aunts, uncles, coaches, clergy, custodians, can all play an important role in a child’s life.