M any parents look to September with excitement of a new chapter for their children, though there are a few that will be filled with sadness again, for their child’s story ended abruptly. These are the parents that suffered an unimaginable loss, parents of children who committed suicide. I can’t even begin to understand what that might feel like. Recently, I read about a 12 year old girl from Rockaway NJ, who took her own life. This hit me especially hard as I grew up in that area, and more so because I have a 12 year old daughter myself. What I am learning is that there is no town that is immune from this.
Statistics are alarming, and in order to prevent more tragedy, we as parents need to gain a better understanding of what exactly we are dealing with. Previous beliefs that suicidal thoughts were something that only older teens dealt with are being dismissed. Suicide attempts in younger children, even as young as 10 and 12 years old are on the rise. Reports from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicate suicide rates tripled in females, ages 10 through 14, from 1999 to 2014. Other researchers report that a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder was present in 60% of children aged 5-11, with 30% suffering from depression. When studying the 12-17 year old age group, 66% had a diagnosis of depression, with 29% having ADD or ADHD. These numbers are significant, as it leads one to believe that the suicide may have been an impulse response, not the result of a depressive disorder. In both age groups, about 30% of the children expressed their suicidal thoughts and intentions to others. When tracked month by month over multiple years, suicide peaks are noted in the spring and the fall. July, has the lowest number of suicides on record during multi-year studies. Some researchers have suggested that this annual dip is directly linked to the absence of school and social pressures. Others say it is that our expectations of children have exceeded normal child development, or that electronic presents have been substituted for parental presence. Socialmedia is more powerful than most believe, and perhaps too powerful for young children to manage. Our kids are experiencing too much protection from natural consequences, too much focus on tests and achievements, too much social and peer pressure. Yet they are living in a world where we have too little compassion, too little understanding, too little coping mechanisms, too little mental health support, too little recognition of emotional struggles. It all just becomes too much.
If you had the power to prevent the suicide of another one’s child, would you? There is no foolproof method, but perhaps we need to try. It is difficult to respond spontaneously to certain interactions. But just as we would prepare for a job or interview, we need to prepare ourselves for the trials of parenthood. As a parent, do you practice inclusiveness? Do you encourage your child to try and reach out to support or understand kids who appear different, or do you teach her to ignore and steer clear? Have you tried to understand the struggles of a less-understood child, or have you rushed to judgement? Do you avoid the child who has a parent who is struggling with mental health? Have you thought about a response if your child or their friend tell you they no longer want to live? Most children will act out because of a struggle. It may be academic, physical or emotional, but a struggle nonetheless. Do you judge or practice empathy? Do you monitor your child’s online activity? Do you discourage teasing, and humiliation? Do you know when your child has experienced the same?
In my research for this article I read a story about a boy who committed suicide. He promised himself that if just one person said hello to him that day, he wouldn’t go through with his plan. That was his test to see if the world cared. His mother found his letter. We owe it to all the young lives cut short, to the parents who will experience never-ending grief, and to our children. Say hello, practice kindness, and by all means teach your child and their friends that their life has purpose, they are loved, and the world cares.