Children as young as five years old could be facing the risk of suicide, according to a new study.
Researchers investigated suicide among children and early adolescents by analyzing data on suicide deaths, particularly for those aged five to 14 years old, collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System from 2002 to 2012.
They discovered that young children who committed suicide often suffered from relationship problems with family or friends. On the other hand, adolescents who committed suicide often had relationship problems with a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
“These differences tended to fall along developmental lines given elementary school-aged children are more likely to spend time with family and friends and less likely to engage in romantic relationships, which become more common during adolescence,” lead study author Arielle H. Sheftall said in a press release.
Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death among children according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers also found out that in 29 percent of the cases they studied involving children and early adolescents, the subjects expressed their desire to commit suicide before they actually killed themselves.
Sheftall said their study emphasizes the significance of helping health care professionals, family members and teachers identify the warning signs of suicide in children. The study author also said it is important for these people to know how to respond to children expressing their intention to take their own lives.
“These warning signs include a child making suicidal statements, being unhappy for an extended period, withdrawing from friends or school activities or being increasingly aggressive or irritable," Sheftall said.
The researchers saw a mental health problem in about 33 percent of the suicide subjects they studied. ADD or ADHD was common among the children while depression or dysthymia was common among early adolescents.
Gregory Fritz, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School in Brown University, said there used to be a prevailing notion that children were not capable of killing themselves because “it couldn't be as hopeless as it was often seen to be required, or they didn't have a sense of time or an understanding of the permanence of death.”
Fritz, who was not involved in the study, said this idea needs to change.
"Adults need to realize that school-age children as young as 5 kill themselves," Fritz said.
Although the suicide rate for children aged five to 11 years old is only 0.17 per 100,000 kids, parents should acknowledge the fact that children “can and sometimes do think about suicide,” according to study co-author Jeff Bridge.
"It is important to ask children directly about suicide if there is a safety concern,” Bridge said. “Research has refuted the notion that asking children directly about suicide will trigger suicidal thinking or behavior. It does not hurt to ask. In fact, asking about suicide leads to hope for at-risk youth."