In 2014, 425 young people 10 to 14 years old died of suicide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among children ages 10 to 14 has been steadily rising and has doubled in the United States from 2007 to 2014.
There is a misconception that children do not commit suicide, but rates for middle school students have surpassed the rate of death by car crashes.
Elissa Nadworny, digital journalist on the National Public Radio Education Team, conducted an interview about the six myths on suicide that every parent and educator should know with David Jobes, head of the Suicide Prevention Lab at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Myth number one is, “Asking someone about suicide will cause him to become suicidal.”
There are many struggles around mental illnesses in our culture and society. Now more than ever we need to communicate. Directly asking and intervening actually saves lives.
Myth number two is, “Depression causes all suicides.”
Although those struggling with depression among other illnesses such as anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and addictions can be suicidal, depression and suicide are not synonymous.
Myth number three is, “We cannot really prevent suicides.”
With proper identification, support and treatment, we can save lives.
Most people who have suicidal thoughts do not actually want to be dead. They provide indications and warning signs to communicate that killing themselves is something they do not actually want to do.
Although not everyone shows warning signs, they can include depression, loss of concentration, insomnia, irritability, withdrawal and not being themselves.
Myth number four is, “Suicides always happen in an impulsive moment.”
Often, suicide is the result of days or weeks of planning, leaving notes or posting on social media. Among adolescents, they often resist talking to their parents but will tell their friends, write an essay about suicide or talk to coaches and teachers.
Myth number five is, “Young children, ages 5 through 12, cannot be suicidal.”
Although not much is known about children taking their lives, in the U.S. about 30-35 children under the age of 12 take their lives each year.
Myth number six is, “When there has been a suicide, having a school assembly seems like a good idea.”
Schools need to be careful not to underreact or not help those affected by the suicide. Conversations in smaller groups are desired, especially for those most affected by suicide.
Schools and school staff have a unique position to communicate with children that talking to others is better than not and that if a friend expresses suicidal thoughts, they need to pass that information to someone who can get them professional help.
Lora Schultz, school counselor at PJ Jacobs Junior High in Stevens Point, often works with suicidal students, their parents and community mental health providers who provide clinical treatment for suicide, depression and anxiety, among other issues.
On an average school year, she works with 10-15 students who are suicidal and 20-30 who are referred but end up not being suicidal. Of the 10-15 students who are suicidal, approximately half end up hospitalized.
Among the many factors that affect suicide, she believes that kids are less resilient and independent these days.
“Instead of insulating kids from failure, we should be encouraging them to fail and fail often,” Schultz said. “Even more importantly, they need to learn that they can solve problems on their own and make it through minor conflicts without being rescued by an adult.”
Many things have changed, especially with the development of technology. Schultz said social media has positive and negative effects.
“These days, kids have the ability to be connected 24-7 and if no one is monitoring what they’re doing on their cell phones, iPods or tablets, issues can arise,” Schultz said. “On the flip side, social media can be a positive support for children who are hurting and looking for reassurance that they’re not alone.”
Aside from her job, Schultz’s brother struggled with depression most of his life and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He suddenly killed himself this past summer.
Schultz said, “My ability to connect and hopefully get through to students and families is magnified because I know how awful it feels to lose a loved one to suicide.”
The signs of suicide are not always clear and the victims of suicide are not always obvious, but continuing the conversation is crucial and can save the lives of loved ones.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours every day. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you or someone you know may be dealing with suicidal thoughts.