The Troubling Tide of Suicide and Self Harm Among Children

by Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel MD

We are well aware of the escalating rate of suicide in teenage girls and young women. Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death in female adolescents and college students. However, less known, but equally critical, is the increase in child self-harm and suicide throughout our country.

According to a new study, the percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidality and serious self-harm doubled from 2008 to 2015.

Those who conducted the research elected to do so because ever-increasingly, beds in childrens’ hospitals were not being filled by kids with physical issues, but those awaiting placement because they were suicidal.

Researchers focused on children, age five to 17, and looked at 32 children’s hospitals to identify the total number of emergency department and inpatient visits over an eight-year time frame. They found 118,363 children between the ages of 5 and 17 with a discharge diagnosis of suicidality or serious self-harm.

Just over half, 59,631 children, were between the ages 15 and 17, and nearly 37% were between 12 and 14. Those between the age of 5 and 11, a total of 15,050 kids comprised nearly 13% of the total. Whereas females are far more likely to attempt suicide, males tend to be more successful.

iStock_000003944944XSmallThe outstanding question remains: why? Although the answer is complex, the study revealed a fact of great interest. The month of fewest suicide attempts is July and the numbers escalate as the new school year approaches.

We recognize that school can be stressful and many parents place inordinately high academic expectations on their children, but can this public institution really be the problem? I don’t believe so. Instead, we think it is that which is commonly commensurate with school these days: bullying.

Decades ago, bullying was found on the playground. The big kid picked on the little kid; taunting was confined to a particular location during a given time frame. And importantly, the bully was identifiable, someone who could be seen.

Today, due to social media, the bullying never stops. It follows these kids home, an environment that should be a safe place, a sanctuary from the pain. Girls as young as eight, nine and ten are called fat, ugly, told by peers that they should die. This taunting can continue for hours through   Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other outlets, often with utter anonymity.

Fortunately, school administrators, counselors, teachers and even some social media sites are working more proactively to combat this growing problem. But, parents should learn to recognize the symptoms of depression in their own children, such as; concentration issues, lack of joy and isolating behaviors. It is important to note that while bullying itself does not lead to suicide, it can lead to a development of a mental condition like depression or anxiety, or can contribute to a pre-existing mental condition and worsen the symptoms.

Only with heightened awareness across the board can we hope to stem the tide of suicide in young people.

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