WASHINGTON DC: A recent study found that children at their preteen, even as young as five years of age, could be at risk of suicide.
An expert in the field Gregory Fritz pointed, “Adults need to realize that school-age children as young as 5 kill themselves.”
However, the authors of the study stressed that it’s rare for young children to die by suicide. Kids between the ages of five and 11 have a suicide rate of 0.17 per 100,000 children. For teens from 12 to 17, that number rises to 5.18 per 100,000.
According to Fritz, mental health specialists used to believe that young children couldn’t kill themselves. Experts thought kids “were not capable of suicide because it couldn’t be as hopeless as it was often seen to be required, or they didn’t have a sense of time or an understanding of the permanence of death.”
“It happens. Not every day, but not that infrequently. That’s a very painful thing for adults to consider, but we have to confront that reality.
Adults need to take even little kids seriously when they talk about suicide,” Fritz said.
Adding, “Even now most people outside of the mental health professions are aghast when they think of a 6-year-old trying to kill himself. They think, ‘Are you kidding, how can that be true?’”
Lead author Arielle Sheftall said the study was launched as a follow-up to previous findings that suggested an increase in suicides among young black children from 1993 to 2012 and a decrease among young white children.
“It aims to understand more about the possible reasons why young children kill themselves,” she added.
The researchers looked at suicide statistics in 17 states for various periods between 2003 and 2012 and focused on kids aged between five to 11 and 12 to 14.
In those states, 87 children (85 percent male) aged five to 11 died by suicide, as did 606 (70 percent male) children aged 12 to 14.
“Elementary school-aged children who died by suicide were more likely to experience relationship problems with their family members or friends, while early adolescents who died by suicide were more likely to experience boyfriend or girlfriend problems,” Sheftall said.
Almost four out of 10 suicides involving children aged betweenfive to 11 were black children, mostly boys.
Neither Sheftall nor Fritz had theories as to why the rate is so high. They noted that blacks in general tend to have lower rates of suicide than whites.
One-third of the suicide victims had a mental health problem with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) the most common one – 60 percent.
ADHD can make people impulsive.
“This suggests that children who die by suicide may be more vulnerable as a group to respond impulsively to interpersonal challenges,” Sheftall said cautioning that the study doesn’t show that ADHD causes suicide.
Fritz said it can be difficult to help these kids because their thoughts change rapidly. “They may not be thinking about suicide now, and then a day later they are. That makes it challenging,” he said.
Among the older kids with a mental health condition, depression was the most common disorder – 66 percent.
The study also found that suffocation and strangulation (such as hanging) were the most common methods of suicide among the younger children. For the older group, deaths by firearm were more common, the study found.
Given how unnerving these findings are, Sheftall explains what can adults do to prevent suicide by young children.
“It is important to ask children directly about suicide if there is a safety concern,” Sheftall said. “Parents can ask, ‘Are you having thoughts about killing yourself?’ Asking kids about suicide is safe and does not put ideas into their heads,” she said.
Adding, if a child says yes, the parent can call their pediatrician or take the child to the nearest emergency department.
Fritz said adults should ask children about suicide if they’re displaying behavior problems, showing signs of unhappiness, or doing impulsive or dangerous thing, “Are you doing this to hurt yourself, do you wish you were not alive, are things so bad that you wish you could die?” he said.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.