We Need to Talk
During lunch the other day, I opened up Buzzfeed and saw this: Demi Lovato Opens Up About Having Suicidal Thoughts At Age 7. Demi has always been amazing about sharing her experiences with mental illness. But her recent interview with Dr. Phil has opened up a can of worms that needed to be opened: Can kids be suicidal? In order to help kids get the help they need, we need to acknowledge the fact that children deal with mental illness – and not just ADHD.
Why Don’t Depressed Kids Get the Help They Need?
In my last post, I mentioned dealing with childhood depression and eating disorders when I was growing up. I was depressed in kindergarten, suicidal in third grade, and actively trying to starve myself to death by sixth grade. It wasn’t easy, but I was lucky – I made it out okay, and I’m learning how to get better.
But, David Palmiter, a psychology professor, points out that it doesn’t work out so well for all kids,
Most of the kids that need mental health care don’t get it… Historically, we’ve wrongfully thought that suicidality becomes an issue in adolescence, and we haven’t really looked at younger children so much. And we now know that’s not right.
Can Children Be Suicidal?
Access to mental health care is a challenge for many people. But children dealing with suicidal thoughts face an additional barrier – people don’t believe they can be suicidal. How can you identify children at risk of suicide if you don’t even know that children can become suicidal?
Last year, a team of researchers looked at data from children’s hospitals over a period of several years. They found that 13% of children who were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts were between the ages of 5 and 11.
That’s 15,050 children who don’t want to be alive anymore, the equivalent of 34 elementary schools full of kids who want to die.
What Can We Do?
We can start by taking kids seriously. If you know a child is hurting, trust their experience. Just because something doesn’t seem like “a big deal” to you doesn’t mean that a child sees the situation in the same way. Children’s brains are still developing – they may not have the cognitive or emotional skills to effectively deal with the stressful or traumatic situations in their lives.
Be proactive – if you notice a child displaying any of the typical warning signs of suicide, get help, now. Tell their family and/or contact a medical or mental health professional. Don’t let yourself believe that a child is “too young” to struggle with severe depression or suicidal thoughts.
Early intervention is the best medicine.
Check out Demi’s interview with Dr. Phil if you haven’t already. I am so proud of her for using her platform to do the hard work of talking honestly about mental health.
Thanks for reading!