Given the tragic suicides of two celebrities this week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I felt it necessary to address the topic of suicide. In my practice, I see many children who are depressed as well as many depressed parents.
The statistics are sobering. Suicide is on the rise in all racial and ethnic groups, in both men and women, in rural and city areas. The increase is in all age groups except those over 75. Since 1999, the suicide rate is up 30 % according to the Center for disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the second largest cause of death in college age youth and kids 12-18. The suicide rate among young children 10-14 years old doubled from 2007 to 2014, according to the CDC.
What’s Going On?
There are many myths and untruths about suicide as well as speculation about why the increase in people taking their own lives. There are so many factors that influence a person’s decision to commit suicide. For adults, those reasons can be relationship problems, financial turmoil, unemployment, substance abuse, depression, social isolation to name a few.
There is little research in suicide in children under the age of 13. However, it does happen. From 1999- 2015, 1,309 children ages 5-12 took their own lives. Most of these children were male and had diagnosed mental health disorders according to the CDC. Most children took their lives due to relationship problems with family or friends (60%). School problems and recent crisis wee other triggers (40%), according to The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. This studied also confirmed that children at a young age, as young as first grade understand what “killing oneself” meant. By third grade, children could describe ways one could kill themselves.
Be on the lookout!
The following are warning signs for suicide:
Factors that put kids at risk for suicide:
A Word About Technology
According to a study by Dr. Jean Twenge, who lead a study examining the use of social media and suicide rates among teenagers, among teenagers who spend 5 hours per more on their phone per day, 48% had suicide-related outcomes such as depression, thinking about suicide, making suicide plans or attempting suicide. For those who spent 1-2hours a day, the rate dropped to 28%. The reasons are many and varied but some include, especially for girls, the pressure to get a lot of “likes” and followers on social media. Many girls compare their looks to other girls and feel they fall short. Others feel their peers are leading more exciting lives. Other kids are missing a good night’s sleep because they are up late on social media. There is a direct correlation between lack of sleep and depression.
What’s a Parent To Do?
According to Healthychildren.org, here is a list of things parents or caregivers can do to reduce the risk of suicide:
Frequently, I hear parents tell me that “I don’t believe in medication” or “that will turn him or her into a zombie”.
This is my answer to that. First, there is a strong genetic component for depression and anxiety. Your child or you, cannot help how your brain is wired or what you genetically were given. If you or your child had diabetes, you would not say “we are not taking insulin”. Medication is never a first resort. However, if coping strategies do not work or you or your child are thinking strongly about suicide, it may be the best choice. I tell people, your medical records are not splashed on a bill board for all to read. It is private information. No one needs to know you take medication for anything if you are not comfortable with them knowing.
Secondly, no one gets turned into a “zombie”. Many times, your doctor may have to alter or change medications until they find the right dosage for you or your child. That happens with many medications. There are MANY, MANY people on anti-depressants. I have yet to see a Zombie! In addition, counseling and medication (when needed) provide the best outcome.
We have to get over the mental health stigma and embrace and support one another.
If you or your child/teen are feeling suicidal, go to your nearest emergency room immediately! The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is: 1-800-273-8255.