Tween Suicide: A Local Mom Shares Her Story

June 4, 2014, Parenting Success Network

This week’s blog post was submitted by guest blogger, Tanya Pritt. We hope you enjoy her post and look for future posts from Tanya.

Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children Younger than Twelve

There is an issue of suicide in Corvallis. In the last ten months, more than seven young people have completed suicide attempts and several others have, thank God, landed in the emergency room where they were revived and stabilized. In the meetings that I attend that involve mental health, schools, juvenile probation officers, and other private providers we are talking about the young people we knew, the community that has been impacted, and the impotence we all feel in addressing the needs of these hurting young people.

We have talked about and have actually brought leaders in our community together to address the problem but we have yet to bring parents who have experienced these issues into the room. We have yet to bring young people whose attempts were thwarted by a medical response into the room. These are the people we need to talk to. These are our teachers.

As a mother who has a child, now grown, that attempted suicide, I am grateful to the medical and mental health community that helped him. I am more grateful to friends and other children that came forth and shared with us their experiences. That is where I learned. That said, a lot is known about teens and young adults with respect to suicide risk factors. As I do my own research I came across a couple of articles regarding suicide risk in children younger than twelve.

Younger than twelve?

As I researched younger suicide attempts I was struck by the similarities in teenagers. Often it was a response to a loss of a parent or having accepted the responsibility and blame of the family problems that may have resulted from divorce or domestic violence.

Some children, so engulfed in grief over the loss of a parent, actually want to follow that parent’s in death without ever realizing the finality of suicide. It is a concept beyond their understanding when they are young. Some children have shared wanting to copy the act of suicide that took their loved one without fully understanding the consequences of that decision. Experts agree that if a person is old enough to love they are young enough to grieve and grieving as a child requires adult understanding and help to navigate the feelings; to understand what is happening. There is a documented case of a nine-year-old wanting to end his life. His younger brother, 5, wanted to go with him. The two boys took an overdose of pills together.

Parenting instruction now needs to address these issues. We don’t normally think of our young ones as having the capability to think about suicide. But many do. Some children may identify with a parent or sibling that is depressed and suicidal. Poverty or domestic violence may introduce stressors too great for that child to feel any sense of hope. Some children may see suicide played out in television as a drama that brings families together in mourning and celebrating a young life. This may appeal to a child who has felt unnoticed or unworthy. Some may want to escape a parent who has given the message they are a burden or unwanted. School-age children who have been subject to bullying are at risk. There have been documented accounts in our community of young people posting intentions on the Internet only to be encouraged to follow through. In our tech-savvy world, even elementary age children can navigate the Internet. These children should not have access to social media and yet, many do.

Suicide is often romanticized and young children often are not able to discern the difference between escaping an intolerable situation and the finality of death.

There are those children also, with mental health issues as well as psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices that direct children to kill themselves. In comparison to middle and high-school-aged youth, who often commit suicide because of problems with romantic relationships, younger children’s conflicts with parents are potential suicide risk factors for young children.

It feels like the responsibility of raising children is even more critical and fraught with danger today than it was for my parents or even me. Today children navigate social media, hurried and demanding schedules that prevent families from coming together daily as a unit, and societal pressure to grow up quicker than they need to.

I take heart that when my child attempted suicide he was doing so as a response to perceived trouble he was in. I will carry that guilt forever and it motivates me to reach out to other parents and children.

In being true to my Native roots, I have strived to incorporate the following philosophy in my life. Some came early, some came late. It is never too late to start making the safety of children the most important issue in our lives.

As an eagle prepares its young to leave the nest with all the skills and knowledge it needs to participate in life, in the same manner, so I will guide my children.
I will use the culture to prepare them for life.
The most important thing I can give to my children is my time.
I will spend time with them in order to learn from them and to listen to them.
I will teach my children to pray, as well as the importance of respect.
We are the caretakers of the children for the Creator. They are his children, not ours.
I am proud of our Native language. I will learn it if I can and help my children to learn it.
In today’s world, it is easy for children to go astray, so I will work to provide positive alternatives for them.
I will teach them the culture.
I will encourage education. I will encourage sports. I will encourage them to talk with the Elders for guidance; but mostly, I will seek to be a role model myself.
I make this commitment to my children so they will have courage and find guidance through traditional ways. (7 Philosophies for a Native American Man)

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She’s been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years.