As painful as it is to consider, abundant data tells us that childhood suicide is a reality. My heart aches as I process this information. Children should be immune to the kind of pain that would prompt a suicide solution. Unfortunately for us all, children are not immune to extreme bouts of mental and emotional pain. Most of the data and research deals with preteen and teenage children, who are being bullied or are having relationship problems of one sort or another, often with their peers. Almost all of these preteen and teenage children suffer from depression and/or anxiety as well. More recently, studies have begun of children 5-11 years of age who commit suicide. Can you even begin to imagine that a five year old could be in that much pain, let alone know how to carry out the action of taking his/her own life?
Yes, there is a lot of data on childhood suicides, but more important for this writing is the information about how to detect and treat the causes that lead to thoughts and acts of suicide by very young children. It is critical for parents to understand the signs that appear when a child is having extreme emotional problems and considering suicide, and to know how to support them and get help for them.
According to an article in Psychology Today, if you notice changes in a child’s behavior such as in sleeping patterns, eating habits, or socialization patterns, take action to delve deeper to find out what is going on with your child. Experts in this field say that parents should not be afraid to talk to their children about suicide. According to the experts, ask direct questions about your child’s thoughts regarding suicide, and talk openly about whether or not your child is considering this as a solution to his/her emotional pain. Parents should not hesitate to discuss the permanency of suicide with their children. Some young children do not understand that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Contact the child’s physician and let them know what is going on. Contact a child psychologist and make an appointment for the child. Spend enjoyable time with the child. Reassure your child that he/she is very precious to you and you are always there to help them work out a positive solution to their issues.
It is very important to take any expression by your child about suicide absolutely seriously. Your child is suffering and needs help.
Center For Suicide Prevention
Inch by inch and step by step we are making progress in the battle against the stigma related to mental-health illness. The progress has been slow for sure, and comes primarily in the form of articles being written about the existence of this stigma. The stigma is definitely still a factor in the mental-health conversation, but at least people are talking about that stigma. Does that sound like progress? Yes, it does, certainly to me, because we are talking about and acknowledging the existence of mental-health issues. We are not ignoring the topic hoping it will go away.
Each of these articles to which I referred above talks about people, famous and not-so-famous, admitting that they have mental-health challenges. Carson Daly, host of The Voice and a contributor on the Today Show, admits battling a panic and anxiety disorder since childhood. Charlamagne Tha God, a radio host and best-selling author of Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, admits that even though he talks and writes about having mental-health issues, he is still not totally comfortable with this persona. Allison Schmitt, a gold medal Olympic swimmer, Kevin Love, a professional basketball player, Jason Kander, a politician, and so many more well-known people have come forward and raised their hands and said, “Yes, I have a mental-health challenge.” But even with so many people confessing to having mental-health issues, we unfortunately are still not free of the stigma.
Our society has a long way to go to get up to speed on accepting mental-health illness and treating it like any other illness. Until that happens, people will remain wary and reticent in seeking help for their mental-health issue. Depression will go untreated. Anxiety will go untreated. Panic disorders will go untreated. Bi-polar disorders will remain in the closet. And this result is so unfortunate, because there are so many ways to get help and lead a healthy, productive, and normal life.
For resources for help please refer to the list below.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute on Mental Health
Heads Together Mental Health
I appreciate Carrie Fisher’s intense honesty about her struggles with mental health, in particular with bi-polar disorder. I am not so sure that one voice makes a huge difference, but every voice counts, and especially her’s, which was funny, clear, loud, and well-known due to her fame.
Ms. Fisher had a rough time of it after her diagnosis in her mid-twenties, choosing for a period of time to drown her diagnosis in alcohol and drugs. By her thirtieth birthday, Fisher had come to terms with the fact that her bi-polar disorder was real. From the moment of her acceptance, Fisher embraced her illness and recognized that the disease was medical in nature. She never succumbed to feelings of shame about her chronic mental illness. In her mind, she knew it was due to a chemical imbalance, and this chemical imbalance was no different from any other medical condition. It is reputed that her brutally honest reaction to, and acceptance of, her bi-polar disorder brought some normalcy to perceptions about mental health illness, proving that even an intelligent, cool, and successful person can have a mental illness and still lead a normal, productive, and stimulating life. Many of us who deal with a chronic mental illness know this to be fact. We know that we can lead successful, productive, and happy lives. We are not the ones who need convincing. It is the larger (but shrinking) community that has never experienced mental illness that needs to understand the normalcy of our particular abnormality. When the outside community begins to accept the normalcy of this disease, it will make it easier for all of us to feel unashamed.
Today, perhaps in part because of Carrie Fisher’s honesty, more people are talking openly about their own struggles. More programs have been established to help people face and manage their own mental illness, and to educate their families and the population at large. With greater openness on the subject of mental health, more people are reaching out to get the help they need. And all of this is good.