More suicidal kids showing up at hospitals — but there’s hope
New research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting finds the number of children admitted to the hospital for thoughts of suicide or self harm has more than doubled over the past eight years.
The Vanderbilt University study found slightly more than half of the children hospitalized with suicidal thoughts or actions were in the 15 to 17 age range, while 37 percent were between 12 and 14 years old.
Additionally, 12.7 percent of those with suicidal thoughts were kids between the ages of 5 and 11.
Maureen Brogan, the statewide coordinator of the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth, a Rutgers University program, said while the number of children hospitalized for suicidal thoughts is up significantly in the study, it’s unclear whether this means more kids are actually contemplating suicide, or if there is simply greater awareness of the issue — and more at-risk children are being recognized and being directed to get help.
“We don’t know whether there’s a true uptick,” she said.
The most recent data available from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families indicates about 80 New Jersey children take their own lives every year.
Why are kids thinking about taking their own lives?
“Sometimes there’s an underlying mental health disorder, and some research has shown up to 90 percent of people who have died by suicide have had a mental health disorder,” she said. “But also we have younger people exposed to more complex problems and issues that they’re struggling with, and they may not have the coping skills necessary to make it through that.”
She said children are "identifying with populations or different ways of being in the world at earlier ages, and they don’t have the coping skills to necessarily work with all those pressures or prejudices."
"They lose hope," she said. "They feel like, 'This is it. Things are not going to get better.'"
She said New Jersey has several programs to teach school personnel, teachers and faith leaders to recognize the warning signs, so someone can get help sooner rather than later.
“We don’t want to identify kids when they’ve made an attempt. We want to keep kids from even having suicidal ideations,” she said.
Brogan said if you notice a significant change in a kid’s behavior, it could be significant.
“If someone who’s ... a laid back kind of kid all of a sudden becomes very, very agitated, and that’s really not the child that you’re used to seeing in your home, it could be a red flag," she said.
Another warning sign is if a kid says “Oh I’m not worried about that. I’m not going to be here much longer," or "I don’t want to be here anymore," or "Life is too hard. I just want to end it all.”
She said the bottom line is “when we’re talking about suicide, we want to talk about that there’s hope, that there’s help.”
And toward that end, the message to younger kids and teens is “We can help you. There is hope. This might be a bad time in your life, but you can get through it, and there are resources out there that can help you through this tough time.”
The New Jersey Hopeline number is 1-855-654-6375. It operates 24 hours a day.
Also, TLC has launched tlc4teens.org, featuring resources for young people.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com