Occasionally, during times of anger and upset, youngsters in middle childhood make provocative statements like "I'm going to kill myself." More than anything, these threats are designed to agitate parents and get their attention, and children usually have no serious intention of doing themselves real harm. Nevertheless, if frequent, these statements are messages of a very unhappy child, and parents need to be sure that the child is, in fact, in no jeopardy.
Youngsters in the six-to-twelve age range rarely commit suicide, but there is an increasing trend for them to make suicide attempts. Nevertheless, a small number of them who are severely depressed do think about killing themselves. Overwhelmed by despondent and hopeless feelings, a few actually do try to end their lives.
Children who attempt suicide often first display warning signs, including withdrawal, sadness, loss of appetite, and sleep disturbances. They may give away some of their most prized possessions, such as a baseball card collection. Sometimes the suicide of a friend or classmate can prompt children to consider killing themselves to reduce the psychological pain they are feeling.
If you sense that your child is troubled, you need to talk with him about it. Listen and share feelings. Do not hesitate to use the word suicide. Despite the myth that talking about suicide might give your child the idea of killing himself, that will not happen. Instead, your concern will show your child that you really care about him and his well-being and are willing to help him with his problems.
You should obtain some professional help for a seriously troubled child. If your pediatrician has developed a good relationship with your child over the years, he or she may be the best person for your youngster to talk to in the beginning. The doctor might then refer your youngster to a child psychiatrist or psychologist. If a child is truly suicidal and cannot be constantly monitored by the family, he may need to be hospitalized.
For emergency situations, most communities have suicide hotlines that can provide immediate advice and help. Check the telephone directory for these crisis hotlines, as well as for local mental-health centers to which you might turn for support.
For additional information about suicide, contact:
The American Association of Suicidology
2459 South Ash
Denver, Colorado 80222
National Committee for Youth Suicide Prevention
230 Park Avenue, Suite 835
New York, New York 10169
National Mental Health Association
1021 Prince Street
Arlington, Virginia 22314
American Psychiatric Association
1400 K Street N.W
Washington, D.C. 20005