The loss of a child is an unspeakable tragedy. Losing a child by suicide is complicated and leaves many questions unanswered. Unfortunately, to add even more grief to such tragedy, many child and teen suicides could have been prevented.
Child Suicide Statistics
Suicide has become a major public health concern and it is the second leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 18, which persists into adulthood, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics (April 2019).
Although child suicides are rare, from 1999 through 2015, 1,309 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. In other words, during those 17 years, on average one child under 13 died of suicide nearly every five days.
In the past two decades, the number of children and teenagers visiting the emergency department for suicidal behavior has almost doubled, and the median age is just 13 years old, according to the CDC.
Of all the hospital visits recorded for suicidal behavior, nearly half were for young children aged five to 11.
In one study that began in 2007, the authors counted about 580,000 pediatric emergency room visits for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. By 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 1.12 million. During nine years of the study, visits to emergency department for suicide attempts increased by almost 80 percent. These alarming increases have public officials worried.
Why are Child and Teen Suicides Increasing?
The exact reasons are unclear, a pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health told USA Today. The JAMA study suggests that children who die by suicide are more likely to have mental health issues and tense relationships with friends and family. Lack of child and adolescent psychiatrists, or any mental health professional, and the uptick in school bullying compounds the problems. The Journal Pediatrics published a study that examined suicides in 17 states from 2003 to 2012, and broke down the factors among ages 5-11 and 12-14. The authors found the following:
- Both groups had about 33 percent mental problems
- Relationship problems — such as arguments or other issues with friends and relatives — were the most common factor for both groups, and number one problem was boyfriend/girlfriend issues in the 12-14 group.
- Attention-deficit disorder was more common in the 5-11 group, whereas the 12-14 set was more likely to have had been diagnosed with depression.
If you think a child or a teen may be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-(800)-273-8255.
Suicide among adolescents is increasingly being studied, but studies of suicide among younger children (less than 13 years) are few. Most children under 13 who kill themselves are boys: 76 percent of those who died in 1999-2015 were male. But it is not clear how many many boys and girls ages 5-12 attempt suicide, says Arielle Sheftall, a research scientist at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. Sheftall and her team also found that 36.8 percent of the 5-11 set who died by suicide were black — nearly double the rate reported in the same demographic group between 1993 and 2002.
However, there are some known reasons that drive children to commit suicide, and they are very different from those that motivate teens and adults.
The transition from childhood to adolescence can be a difficult time with myriad challenges, from hormonal changes to increases in schoolwork to personal relationships. A significant event, such as the loss of a family member, can be the last straw that pushes a child to suicide, but there could be many other factors involved that parents and family members, guardians and friends may be unaware of.
Suicides also arise because of bullying, both in person and online. Bullying incidents resulting in suicide have become headlines recently, and some parents have taken legal steps to determine why schoolteachers and/or school officials did nothing to prevent a death. Perhaps they may have contributed to the death.
If a family environment is not safe, perhaps through neglect and ill treatment, or if a family is constantly relocating and the child cannot develop friends and has no reference to cultural landmarks, these factors can contribute to cause of suicide.
What Can We Do to Prevent Child Suicide?
It is so important to become familiar with depression and early signs of suicide ideation – you could save a child’s life. Suicidal signs are often more difficult to predict in young children. One reason is that we cannot fathom a child taking his or her own life.
A child who suddenly loses interest in their friends or activities, or begins to isolate themselves more.
Listen to what the child is saying. “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up” or “I wish I were dead”, or if they say mean and derogatory things is not normal language or behavior.
Whenever possible, talk to your child, join the conversation. And listen for triggers. You may need to seek professional help – from a school psychologist to a private psychiatrist.
Stop the Bullying
Start by talking to the teachers and the school’s Board of Ed. Talk to the parents. If you aren’t getting anywhere, or feel that people deny that bullying takes place, talk the police. If you still can’t get the bullying to stop, if your child feels unsafe in school and is being hurt, it’s time to talk to an attorney. You wouldn’t just sue the children and parents though. You would sue the school.
Liability and Suicide
By definition, people who commit suicide are responsible for their own death, but other people and entities my be involved. Proving liability in a suicide can be complicated, but it is possible. Liability can arise in the school setting under certain circumstances.
A child suicide lawyer will take into consideration physical and emotional harm to determine whether your claim is worth litigating. For instance, if your child sustained a broken bone when others ganged up on him and caused serious emotional suffering for both the child and the parents over a prolonged time, a lawsuit may prevent incidents like this from ever happening again.
If your child attempted or committed suicide that could have been prevented, you may want to contact child injury lawyer Jeffrey Killino.
A health professional may be guilty of negligence if a patient is improperly monitored and commits suicide. Certain anti-depressant medications my cause suicidal ideation, which could be a medical malpractice matter. If a suicide occurs in a mental health facility, for instance, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Teachers and administrators, the school and school district may be found responsible if a child commits suicide for bullying.
Many suicides can and should be prevented. If you feel your loved one’s death was the direct result of negligence, talk to a compassionate child and teen suicide lawyer Jeffrey Killino. Killino and his team are experienced and knowledgeable in child suicide wrongful death claims.