When people think of suicide, they usually don’t imagine an elementary or middle-school-aged child. However, a new study suggests that suicidal teens oftentimes attempt suicide at a much younger age than previously thought.
“Nearly 40 percent of young adults who said they had tried suicide said that they made their first attempt before entering high school,” according to a medicalxpress.com article.
“The researchers also found that suicide attempts during childhood and adolescence were linked to higher scores of depression at the time of the attempts, validating for the first time that young adults can reliably recall when they first attempted suicide.”
Researchers show a link between early suicide attempts and later, long-term psychological issues.
"Young adults who end up having chronic mental health problems show their struggles early," said James Mazza, an author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington, in the article. He thinks the study points to starting programs for mental health at elementary and middle schools.
For parents who are concerned about the possibility of their children attempting suicide at a young age, experts have information on warning signs of psychological issues in younger children that parents can look out for. Keep in mind that just because children might have mental health issues, this doesn’t mean they will try to commit suicide, but it’s in everyone’s interest to at least try to prevent the possibility.
Irene Celcer, a parenting and mental health expert, said in an email that the way a child develops and the relationship he or she has with the mother can affect psychological health.
“If a child cannot rely on its environment to feel secure by the time she/he is one and a half years old, later on, that child will have a pattern of not being able to trust adults and the world in which he lives, even when he becomes an adult,” Celcer said.
There are multiple behaviors and characteristics to look for in children that might be a sign of psychological issues, and parents shouldn’t just focus on and get worried over one abnormal behavior necessarily.
“Children who are unable to concentrate, who also cannot finish tasks and cannot make friends with their peers, and who bully others or are bullied fare less well than their counterparts when they become adults if the matter is not taken care of at least by middle school,” Celcer said.
There are many mental disorders, and depression is a more common disorder that can show in children and continue throughout life. The National Institute of Mental Health website states that having a mental disorder, including depression, is a risk factor for suicide, along with other characteristics like family history of mental illness and being around or subjected to violence, as well as being around firearms.
“Children who have a history with being depressed as children have the risk of being depressed as adults too,” Celcer said.
An article on the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s website states that some signs of depression in children include consistent crying, tearfulness and sadness, a decrease in interest in activities that were previously pleasurable, boredom, lack of consistent energy, self-esteem issues, suicidal thoughts and behavior, physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, anger and irritability.
There are other seemingly OK behaviors and personalities that could develop into issues later on if other problematic behaviors develop along with them and are ignored.
“If your child is perfectionistic and rigid and is constantly isolating, then you have to keep an eye on her/him to see how things develop,” Celcer said. ”As a rule, children who isolate themselves and are not helped to feel confident that the environment will provide for them (this is not the same [thing as] having a shy child) and who are not helped to have good self-esteem are prone to have psychological problems later on.”
It’s also helpful to monitor your child during difficult life situations or major changes, like when they go to college or if a family member dies, she said.
John Duffy, a clinical psychologist, author of “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens,” parenting expert and blogger for The Huffington Post, said in an email that it’s important for parents to recognize symptoms of psychological issues in order to get help for their children right away and prevent more severe issues from happening. Also, parents need to be available to hear their children’s concerns and ask them how they are dealing with life and situations.
“Parents need to watch for any marked change in behavior, especially if it's sudden,” Duffy said. “These changes may include mood, mode of dress, respect shown to parents, attention to grooming and hygiene, changes in sleep patterns, and so on.”
Even if a change in a child isn’t necessarily negative, it could still be a sign of possible psychological issues.
“I have worked with depressed and anxious children who might clean their room obsessively, or over-do their homework, or brush their teeth for an extreme period of time,” Duffy said.
Fran Walfish, a child, teen, parent and family psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child,” mentioned other signs parents can look for in children with possible mental health issues in an email.
“Some of the signs mothers can look for as red flags include any behavioral changes in sleep/eating/mood; withdrawal and retreating into isolation; a talkative kid becomes quiet/silent; sudden dip in academic grades; acting-out behaviors that may include truancy, drugs, and breaking rules,” Walfish said.
Medicalxpress.com. Physorg.com. 40 percent of youths attempting suicide make first attempt before high school. Web. Nov. 29, 2011. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-percent-youths-suicide-high-school.html
Celcer, Irene. Welcome. Web. Nov. 30, 2011. http://www.icelcer.com/pages/main/home/home.php
Celcer, Irene. Email interview. Nov. 29, 2011.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The Depressed Child. Web. Nov. 30, 2011. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_depressed_child
Duffy, John. The Available Parent. Web. Nov. 30, 2011.
Duffy, John. Email interview. Nov. 29, 2011.
Walfish, Fran. Email interview. Nov. 29, 2011.
National Institute of Mental Health. Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions. Web. Nov. 30, 2011. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-america/suicide-in-america-frequently-asked-questions.shtml
Reviewed November 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith