In the United States, the number of child suicides is undetectable

When 10-year-old Kelly Wright killed herself, there were no warning signs, her father, Stuart, said. The little boy was full of life, he loved drawing, hiking and canoeing, and the day before he died he showed his dances to his parents.

Kelly isn’t sad or introverted; he was good at school and he was easy to make friends with. And Mr. Wright could never have imagined that a 10-year-old would even consider suicide.

“I never knew it,” complained Mr. Wright, 63, who lived near Tampa, Florida, at the death of his daughter in January 2020.

The number of children who have died by suicide has increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. According to new research on the topic, parents are often unaware that their children are contemplating suicide. Among girls aged 10 to 14, the suicide rate more than tripled between 2007 and 2020, from 0.5 per 100,000 to 2 per 100,000, according to data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. Among boys of the same age, this rate dropped from 1.2 per 100,000 to 3.6 per 100,000 over the same period.

Although these numbers are small compared to the number of teenagers and adults who commit suicide, they are now the second leading cause of death among children in this age group.

Of particular concern to therapists and parents is that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are likely to persist and young people use them as a way to deal with grief.

Mr. Wright, now a volunteer for the Alliance of Hope, an association that helps those who have experienced the suicide of a loved one, wants to warn other families of the danger. “It can really happen to your child,” he warned.

New research shows that suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are more common in children than previously thought. Among 9-10-year-old children and their parents who were asked about the topic, 14.3% mentioned suicidal thoughts and 1.26% attempted suicide, according to an analysis of data from a large a study of adolescent health and brain development following nearly 12,000 young people across the United. State. The study was published in 2021 in the journal Interpreting Psychiatry.

Psychologists and psychiatrists say they’re not sure why suicidal thoughts and behaviors are on the rise among American children. These numbers are contrary to an old belief that children before reaching adolescence do not think about ending their lives or, if they do, have passing thoughts.

New research reveals risk factors in young children such as family conflict and early alcohol exposure. Depression is often associated with suicidal thoughts in teens and adults, but in young people, scientists have found that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and behavioral disorders are also closely linked to thoughts and of suicidal behavior.

Other scientists have emphasized easy access, online, to information about suicide, especially how to commit suicide, and pointed out that many young children have smartphones. Others point to the increase in the number of firearms in American homes.

In black children, studies have found a link between experiencing discrimination and suicidal thoughts. Between the ages of 5 and 12, black children are twice as likely to die by suicide than white children, says Arielle H. Sheftall, a senior investigator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

Children who identify as gay or bisexual, and those with low family incomes, have a higher risk of suicide, research has shown.

Some health care clinics also believe that exposure to violence in the home, in their community and in the media has contributed to the development of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children. And the suicide of some can push other vulnerable young people to end their lives as well, in what researchers call the contagion of suicide, which can contribute to a much higher than normal number of suicides.

Of particular concern to therapists and parents is that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are likely to persist and that young people are using them as a way to manage stress, says Joan Luby, professor of child psychiatry. at Washington University School of St. Louis Medicine.

“As these kids get older, they can engage in more risky behaviors, increasing the number of action games,” he explains.

Most of the new data on suicide before teens comes from a ten-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health that is still ongoing. Across the United States, researchers are analyzing a lot of data that began collecting when these children were 9-10 years old.

In this age group, severe family conflict is linked to suicidal thoughts, according to a 2020 analysis published in the journal The JAMA Network is open. “We think the event is triggered by feelings of not being connected to others, feeling unloved, or feeling a burden,” said Deanna Barch, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and co -author of the article.

Even children with no obvious risk factors can act willingly in a time of difficulty.

Dr. also found. Barch and his colleagues found that low parental engagement – such as not knowing where children were after class or what they were doing online – was linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Low levels of supervision can increase the risk of children accessing suicide information or becoming victims of cyberbullying. It can also show that you can’t get help to overcome difficult emotions and experiences.

Parents are often unaware that their children may be affected: 77% of parents in the group of children who said they had suicidal thoughts themselves said their children had no thoughts or behaviors to commit suicide.

Numerous studies have shown that those with ADHD and behavioral problems, such as when they fight, are more likely to have these types of thinking and behavior. “When a child grows up with undiagnosed symptoms, they feel like they’re sucking up their friends at school,” said Ran Barzilay, a child psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. For children with severe behavioral problems, taking ADHD medication is associated with less suicidal thoughts and actions, according to a study by Drs. Barzillai and his associates. colleagues and published in 2021 at The JAMA Network is open.

For Dr. Sheftall, some children diagnosed with ADHD may have depression. While it is widely agreed that it manifests itself in sadness and loneliness, according to him, in young children, it can result in anger and uncontrollable behavior.

Doctors recommend that parents discuss their feelings with their children, including sadness and frustration, even at a young age. Share ways to deal with complex emotions and tell your children that your love is unconditional. Ask them directly if they have suicidal thoughts. And keep weapons, cleaning supplies and medicines locked.

Even children with no obvious risk factors can act for a moment during distress, psychiatrists point out.

Mr. Wright says that since her daughter’s suicide, she has asked about the risks that lead to suicide and that Kelly has not. “She grew up in a very loving home. He is our whole life, ”he said.

Mr. explained. Wright said he regrets that he did not discuss the suicide with Kelly, who killed herself with a gun.

“If I could come back, I would talk to him, I would ask him, ‘Have you ever considered hurting yourself? Do you know what suicide is?’ Said Mr. Wright, who moved to Louisiana with his wife.

Since the death of his daughter, Mr. Wright her full name – Kelly Helen Wright – is loud every morning. She keeps fresh flowers near her picture and, when she is at home, there is always a burning candle. In April, she celebrates her daughter’s every birthday with cake and balloons.

“I talked to Kelly, and I told her that this candle represents the light you put into our lives,” she continued. “This light will not go out while I am still alive. »

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

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