A recent study in Pediatrics (October 2016), “Suicide in Elementary School-Aged Children and Early Adolescents,” complements previous findings in studies and anecdotal observations about childhood suicide.
The children who die by suicide probably:
* Are male
* Are black
* Usually die by hanging, strangulation, suffocation (older children are more likely to kill themselves with firearms)
* Die at home
* Foremost suffer relationship problems with family and/or friends (60 percent)
* Less often suffer from boyfriend/girlfriend stress
* Seldom leave a suicide note (7.7 percent)
* More likely experience attention-deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (59 percent) and less often are depressed (33 percent) compared with young adolescent decedents.
Fifty-six children under twelve years of age had cause of death recorded as suicide in 2006. This is a small number compared to the more than 200,000 people who commit suicide each year in the United States, but suicide and the risk of suicide among children, some as young as five years old, feels more sorrowful.
Young children lack abstract thinking skills and cannot appreciate the concept of death; they are impulsive, many lack the ability to see a brighter future for themselves, communicate less about their hurts and feelings, struggle more with stress and disorders like depression and ADHD, and have fewer coping strategies than older children. In the new study, eighty-seven five- to eleven-year-olds died by suicide in seventeen states where records were examined. More than six hundred aged twelve to fourteen had suicide recorded as the cause of death.
Critical Shortage of Child Psychiatrists
In 2006, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) called attention to the shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. A decade later, despite more children taking prescription psychiatric drugs and more eligible for treatment under Obamacare, there is critical shortfall of child psychiatrists. There are about 8,500 child psychiatrists in the United States, according to NBC News. The number of adult psychiatrists tips 42,000.
Here are some priority solutions from AACAP:
* Cut the eligibility time from thirty-six months of additional training now required for pediatricians in child psychiatry to put more professionals in the field
* Government needs to underwrite the cost and reform the loan repayment programs for child psychiatrist training as a stopgap measure to spending more money on treatment and institutionalizing children due to a lack of professionals
* Include the specialty as part of the National Health Services Corps under the US Department of Health and Human Services to ensure scholarships and favorable loan programs for those working in underserved areas
* Children’s hospitals receive extensive funding and by redefinition need to include mental health facilities with 90 percent or more inpatients under eighteen.
Elementary schools and youth service programs can work with outsourcers like the National Council for Behavioral Health. It coordinates 2,300 NGO clinics providing psychiatric services. The Canadian Community Outreach in Pediatrics/Psychiatry (COPE) described in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (August 2008) can serve as a model if adequately funded.