Suicide & Suicidal Thoughts Among Children & Teens
Sadly, life can pile atop the shoulders of the young as readily as it burdens the old, and there are far too many kids out there who struggle with thoughts of ending their life before it's even really began. In rare instances, suicidal thoughts and gestures can be seen in kids as young as 4 or 5 years old. More commonly, suicidal thoughts tend to emerge just before puberty in troubled kids, and once adolescence arrives, thoughts of suicide become relatively commonplace, even among otherwise "normal" kids.
Suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents often go by unnoticed, ignored until it's too late. Since suicidal ruminations commonly reach their peak at a time when struggling with life is considered routine, perhaps even to be expected, severe emotional problems may be written off as normal teenage turmoil or dismissed as a passing phase. Making matters worse, young people are often the least likely to reach out and try to talk with someone about their struggles. As suicide researchers Andrew Slaby & Lily Garfinkel write, "parents are surprised to find that a daughter who committed suicide at seventeen first felt suicidal at age ten or eleven. Their obvious question, then, is ‘Why didn't we see it then?’ The answer is that the teen didn't have the words, or, perhaps, she camouflaged her pain so adeptly that it went undetected." (1994, p. 158)
This chapter explores everything readers should know about child and teen suicides. We'll discuss how often they happen, why they occur, and what parents, teachers, and other concerned adults need to know in order to help a child who is on the edge.
Why suicidal kids don't always get the help they need
Unfortunately, far too many children are slipping through the cracks, their cries for help going unfulfilled until it's too late. Slaby & Garfinkel (1994) outline 7 primary problems that can often prevent a suicidal youth from getting the help they need: