A Chilling Reality

Last night I read an absolutely heartbreaking article. The article released online yesterday by Time Magazine said…

Almost 40% of kids attempting suicide make their first try in middle or even elementary school, according to research that suggests that kids who think they want to kill themselves are considering it long before previously assumed.

About 1 in 9 children have attempted suicide before their high school graduation, but learning that they’re making plans as early as elementary school is especially chilling.

In a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers at the University of Washington surveyed 883 young adults ages 18 or 19 about previous suicide attempts and learned that 78 — close to 9% — had tried to commit suicide.

Suicide attempt rates rose steeply at age 12 — around sixth grade — and peaked two to three years later. The 39 teens who said they had tried to commit suicide multiple times reported first attempting when they were as young as 9, which is the average age of a third-grader. Teens who said they had tried just once were more likely to have attempted suicide later, in high school.

Being the father of three young boys I hardly have words to respond to this article.

I’m not going to attempt to explain why this is happening. Is it possible that kids have felt this way this early throughout history and we’re just now discover it? Sure. Is it possible we live in world where our kids are growing up faster than ever and they simply can’t handle the pressure being put on them? Sure.

What I do know is this:

1) As a parent I need to take my kids and their emotions serious regardless of their age. I need to take time to stay emotionally and spiritually connected to them. I need to take time to have one-on-one conversations where I ask them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling.

2) We need to be praying for our kids. I think we often have no idea how much is going on in those little minds. Their fears, concerns, worries, brokenness and stress are all very real.

21 Responses to “A Chilling Reality”

  1. Brit says:

    Wow, that is a sad article. I truly believe it’s because parents are not involved. They are there day-to-day, put food on the table, clothes on their backs, and keep the heat on but have no idea who their kids really are. My parents never really knew me. I would long for them to ask me who I sat with at lunch or what I played at recess.

    When parents show they care to hear the little details of their days it will be easier to talk about bigger issues like feelings and concerns.

  2. lori says:

    I work with middle and high school age kids. The issues that most of them face day to day would cripple many healthy adults. I believe it’s up to the adults in their lives to continually be there, even just to listen. The reality of this is very scary.

  3. Becca says:

    Suicide-its ripple effect, attempts and successes-all of it is in no way linear, and there just isn’t a way to consolidate every instance. There will always be an ellipsis of sorts. Like snowflakes, every situations is different.

    Fostering emotional health is by far one of the best ways you as a parent can make your kiddos feel less “alone” in their circumstances, and encouraging emotional health is a fairly accurate barometer in which to gauge when something is off. Kids learn to adapt to their environment quickly when they feel they cannot express sorrow over change. They learn to turn inward and become masters at an alarming speed at understanding which emotions are tolerated in their household and which aren’t, and they will show them accordingly.

    From your kiddos point of view, when you allow them to express the wide spectrum of emotions that exist, you are really showing an acceptance of them. Now I’m not suggesting that anger to the point of hitting or throwing objects is appropriate and should be allowed. When that happens, a conversation about healthier (don’t use the word “normal”. That makes a kid feel abnormal and subsequently may feel ostrisized for having emotions, which leads to all sorts of stuffing) ways to express what they are feeling is good.

    I grew up in what I like to call an emotionally “constipated” environment, where anger of any kind was not allowed, and that emotions of hurt, anger, etc… were selfish and not to be expressed because they were inconvenient to the person you were hurt by, angry with, etc…
    This caused me to turn inward super early, and I didn’t start scheming suicide until I was roughly fourteen years old. I’m twenty six now and I have attempted once and thought about it maybe a dozen or so times.

    Counseling was really good for me because I received emotional affirmation. My emotions were justified, and that made me into a much more whole, healthier person.

    So, from a kid to a parent, suicidal thoughts are scary and unpredictable, and in no way one size fits all, but affirming your child’s circumstances and emotions to that circumstance make a HUGE difference both in their expression and their communication with you.

  4. Ashley says:

    Pete, On September 5th 2011 my 14 year old nephew committed suicide. Though the words are still so hard to say, it is very surreal to me! I cant even begin to explain the whole family history but I can tell you that family turmoil that surfaced in this family for YEARS (my husbands family) played a huge role in the stress that my sweet little nephew felt… The fact that his mother never raised him and gave him to his grandmother and that he never knew who his father was played a HUGE role in his daily thought process…Its so hard for me to accept that he is gone and for me to know that I did not save him in time. Does that make sense? This is a real thing in these young kids life and even though my oldest is 8 years old I have made a promise to not only her but to me that we can always talk to each other about ANYTHING!!! Being tuned into your kids life plays a huge role in how they live each day!

  5. KathyWhite says:

    On February 15 my 16 year old nephew took his own life. He had very involved parents and gave absolutely NO indications that he was depressed or suicidal. He was an honor student who was scheduled to graduate early. He had never been in trouble. Two weeks after the tragedy his mom found a notebook in his car with several entries that indicated he had been thinking about it for quite a while. We had no idea. He never let on that anything was bothering him. It is chilling.

  6. Andy says:

    Back in the 80’s when I lived in North Dakota. I worked with the North Dakota Mental Health Assocation. We had teenage suicide prevention. I helped with meetings with parents,teachers,students, and the entire communities. We had a help line for suicide prevention. Your right some parents today just like back then don’t take the the time to spend time with their kids. With peer pressure, wanting to feel excepted at school, kids today have more things that face them than maybe their parents. Parents need to take the time. I guess this is another reason why I love the staff of Crosspoint, cause the staff takes the time for their kids and you see this all the time. Pete I will be praying for all kids that they will talk to someone if they are going thru anything that they need hekp with.

  7. Cheryl Derrick says:

    This is my passion and what I do for a living. Working with teens and parents. Its more of a problem than most people want to admit or will report. My heart aches everyday for the fact that I can’t fix this. Parents can definitely lead the way when it comes to the decisions a child will make. Self esteem is the #1 issue and the one thing we don’t pay enough attention to. Learn all you can about it and how to help your kids and others have a positive outlook about themselves regardless of their circumstances. One of your best resources is “The 5 love languages of Teenagers” by Gary Chapman. He also write one for Children and Couple. Worth the read. The info in invaluable.

    • Shannon says:

      Since this topic is part of what you do… how do I go about finding resources for survivors of suicide?

      I lost my sister to suicide 4 years ago, and the only word I’ve been able to come up with to describe how I feel is “shattered.” I now see the good in life because I’m afraid not to. I see everybody as potentially hurting and needing one positive person to cross their path that day. I am developing an understanding of grace that I never even imagined. While I feel my life has so drastically changed for the better, I still feel shattered. I have been through “regular” grief counseling and was only frustrated by it because it didn’t seem to apply. I’ve lost 8 of my friends in other ways, and this is different.

      I’ll be moving out of Nashville soon and am wondering how to go about finding resources that specifically focus on suicide survivors. Any advice you have would be great!

      I wish there were more ways to let those considering it see how devastated loved ones left behind are!

  8. Sherie says:

    As a past youth worker with more than 20 years of experience I have been shocked to learn just this year how much we have been failing by looking at the teen years as the trouble time. I live in the town where The Mentoring Project is founded, and am actively involved with a local human trafficking group. Both of those organizations have taught me that we need to intervene in these kids lives by age 10 or there are high risks not only for suicide, but also for runaways, human trafficking, gang violence, etc. The solution is more than a call out to parents, it needs to be a call to the community to be the sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends of these kids so they have someone who is listening, seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is chilling, very chilling.

  9. Amy says:

    Although this article doesn’t surprise me it is sad none the less. I grew up in a very small town and most of the people I went to school with were either talking about killing themselves or had already attempted it or were doing something to self harm. I agree with Lori when she says that most of the issues most students face would cripple a healthy adult.
    I myself was one of the students who thought about killing themselves, although I never did. I can say that most of the reason I thought of it was because I felt alone. Today I realize I wasn’t, that I had people in my corner even if those people weren’t my parents.
    Thanks for sharing this article.

  10. Celeste Hill says:

    This one hits to close. Our school Saddleback Valley Christian, just lost an alumni to suicide, it has rocked the campus and true to His promise brought beauty from ashes. I am a part of the Prayer & Care ministry for High School and we know the importance of prayer over our kids. Stay connected & be intrusive in their lives as you love them well.

  11. Randy says:

    My experience in counseling tells me children do experience extreme negative emotions early on. Thinking that is characterized by hopelessness and isolation is not uncommon and your point about parents staying connected to their kids is the most basic and powerful means of addressing this need. Thanks for highlighting this problem.

  12. Concerned says:

    I think hope is taught not caught. There are no easy answers as to why a child might do this. I remember having low feelings myself as a child and in particular I suffered with low self esteem at a young age. Being part of a faith community helped me as I was introduced to the life and suffering of Jesus, although the faith community itself may have been far from perfect.

    Technically at least, I was sure Jesus loved me and that early, immature faith remained with me through the years, although undeveloped. Perhaps I stayed in crisis faith too long. In some ways I’m still there.

    But suicide is a crisis and I think many young people who attempt it don’t realize, in all honesty, there is another way. Can we say to the next generation: “Wait, don’t kill yourself.” Many of these young people may not know what they are waiting for. As an adult it’s far easier to see myself as a part of the bigger picture.

    I think we need to encourage kids to think in new ways. To map their relationships to others, to be intentional about community and to see themselves as a vital link in a chain which passes from one generation to the next, rather than standing alone in their peer groups, searching for someone to briefly hold hands with. There’s a charity local to me that does good work in this area.

    I’ll email the address to Cross Point as the info on their site is very raw, and designed to get through immediately to someone suffering with mental health issues. It may upset some. Suicide is upsetting.

    I believe God is more gracious than we know and I wish I knew a better way to communicate this to young people and their families.

    • Concerned says:

      I have to add that now I have been diagnosed with depression which is being treated using medication and talking treatments, I am further from the danger zone than ever before. There was a time I was far more negligent about my health because I didn’t see it mattered. I would never in a million years have described myself as suicidal but I was far closer to the line then than I am now. In those days I wouldn’t even have had the vocabulary to describe my feelings. But for many people this is the danger zone.

  13. Carrie says:

    I think is higher because of our media driven culture and their focus on the negative. It’s tough for me as an adult to sit through the 24 hour news cycle. The students I work with have no safe place to just be a child. Instead, they have mountains of negativity thrown at them. What these students need is HOPE. And we can give that to them by showing them a Savior who loves them and has great plans for their lives even when they don’t see it. And don’t make them feel ashamed by what they are going through. I tell my students that counseling is amazing, it has change my life and think everyone needs a good Christian counselor these days.

  14. I had a cousin that committed suicide 20+ years ago. He was 12. Some kids at school had made fun of him that day because he liked a girl who did not like him in return. I fully agree with your 2 points. I remember that you taught in church a few years ago that you like to ask your children how their hearts are feeling? That made an impression on me and I regularly do that with my kids.

  15. jason says:

    Pray indeed.

    A lot could be said about this concerning any child that we happen to come into contact with, by showing ourselves a Christian. You never know the impact God could leave through us.

    If we are able to swallow, or rather choke down all of our “self issues” going through our mind at the moment.

    • jason says:

      Just to clarify what I meant about “showing ourselves a Christian” is not particularly witnessing, but the fruits of the Spirit.

  16. Melinda says:

    We don’t always know who needs the extra TLC. Presume it’s everyone.

  17. Marni Arnold says:

    Wow. I honestly thought it was really only a small number. This is actually pretty shocking, however in retrospect of my own life…I will admit I did think such thoughts as young as being in Jr. High at times. Usually those times were when I would hit a major depression…and these thoughts followed me far into my adult years until I got help through Celebrate Recovery after my son was born nearly 4 years ago.

    It is absolutely chilling the things that children can live out in their minds when they experience mistreatment from trusted people…in turn, it affects their emotions. On top of it, adolescence is a time when the transition from childhood to adulthood is absolutely confusing enough as it is…so honestly, it shouldn’t shock us to much that emotions are heightened at these ages. But you nailed it with the last two things we need to be doing as parents for our kids today…we need to be addressing their emotions and giving them space to talk transparently (free from criticism and judgement), and we need to be on our knees constantly for them.

  18. Buddy Knight says:

    I believe that all the new communications tech is racheting up the stress levels in young people’s lives. Kids never unplug from friends…and enemies. Peer input and pressure are constant. When I was young and had a “bad day” I could retreat to my room and get lost in a good book. Not so, today.

    Parents often don’t understand how important the “virtual world” is to young people. They don’t understand how a child’s identity and esteem are tied to the Internet, game network standings, and texting.

    It may be that we need more parenting classes to educate and EQUIP parents on how to spot youth depression and suicidal cues. Training the parents may just be the key in cases where the parents aren’t the problem (which is sometimes the case).

    I crashed and burned in ’95 with clinical depression. Three year’s of on/off therapy revealed that I had likely been battling the illness since early adolescence. There is a genetic component, but had I been diagnosed 35 years ago, today and the past 15 years would have been far different. If we can get rid of the stigma and HELP families TODAY, then I think we can turn the tied.

    But, most parents are either in denial, or don’t know what to look for or what to do.

    Thanks for the post, Pete!

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