The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that the suicide rate among U.S. middle school students doubled from 2007 to 2014. This means that the rate surpasses for the first time the incidence of children aged 12 to 14 who passed away in car crashes. While traffic deaths among this group declined to 1.9 from 2.2 per 100,000 as it went down by 60 percent from 1999, the annual rate of suicide in youngsters jumped from 0.9 to 2.1 per 100,000.
In 2014, 384 young people 10 to 14 years of age died in automobile accidents, while as many as 425 killed themselves that same year. Mark Kaplan, who teaches social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, said it was incredibly difficult to explain the rise as the causes of suicide are very complex, according to the Huffington Post. He remarked that it was best no to think about any conclusions before extensive research has been completed.
Overall, the CDC reported that the leading cause of death for Americans aged 10 to 14 remains car crashes and other accidents although mortality rates from traffic collisions among all age groups have declined over the past decades in the United States. This is mainly due to improved safety features in most vehicles.
Misperceptions of suicide in children
The best way to help those in need is to deeply understand the problem suicide represents and be aware of all the myths we have been told over time. There is a common misperception that young children don’t kill themselves. David Jobes, head of the Suicide Prevention Lab at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., told the National Public Radio that about 30 to 35 kids ages 5 through 12 take their lives each year in the U.S.
He noted that young children often drop hints and let their friends know as they spend weeks planning for their own deaths. They can even write essays their English teacher might read. These kids sometimes tell their coaches about their suicidal thoughts, but they would never tell their parents.
“They do intend it, and they do sometimes take their lives. Oftentimes, by running into traffic and getting hit by a car. We don’t know a lot about young children taking their lives. The suicide prevention literature kind of begins at age 12 to 14. It’s almost as if, even in the professional literature, young children can’t be suicidal. And it’s just not the case,” Jobes said on NPR Live.
Another myth is that addressing the issue might lead the kids to start thinking about it and become suicidal. Teachers and school staff play a key role in detecting suicide symptoms in children, which may include depression, loss of concentration, insomnia, irritability, and withdrawal.
However, Jobes noted that many people who have those symptoms are not thinking about killing themselves. He pointed out that many people believe that depression is always linked to suicidal thoughts although just 40 to 50 percent of Americans who die from suicide might be depressed. Jobes continued to say that schizophrenia, substance abuse, psychotic disorders and anxiety disorders are also relevant.
This leads to the conclusion that listening to these kids is very important after identifying one or more warning signs. It is necessary to be direct when asking someone whether they have suicidal thoughts, Jobes highlighted.
“You need to be direct. Sounds like you’re really down, have you thought about taking your life?’ Just very direct. The more direct the better,” he told NPR.
Of course, it can be difficult to imagine that possibility and confront the kid at risk of suicide by asking such a hard question. Still, it is necessary if the teachers and the school staff want to save lives. They need to intervene rather than leaving the topic untouched. Jobes recommended taking advantage of resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that are designed for teachers and school staff.
Although parents do play a major role, kids spend most of their time at school, and school staff is, therefore, responsible for intervening when a child at risk of suicide has been identified, Jobes remarked. Because school is where children live their lives, that’s a place where they can be exposed to lots of problems.
Kids usually tell their peers, and the school’s staff needs to let them know that being friends involves a sense of protection. Once a child has communicated a friend their intentions to kill themselves, that friend should pass that information up to any school authority or to counselors who hopefully will know what to do to save that life.