“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” Michel de Montaigne
I’m all in for kids, but I think there’s a problem with them receiving a fair shake from their parents. A pretty explosive statement, I must admit. But it’s time we explore what’s going on and why kids may want to commit suicide or will commit suicide, especially during a pandemic.
In Montana, suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10–14, and the second leading cause of death for children 15 to 24. The rate, 29.2 suicides for every 100,000 residents, is nearly twice the national average.
Suicide rates for each state for children older than 10 years of age are here but this only includes data up to 2016. We may surmise that rates may have gone up because of the incredible stress and uncertainty of the pandemc in our lives now.
Parenthood and the “Puppy Syndrome”
No, there’s no current diagnostic code for the “Puppy Syndrome” because, from my vantage point, it exists, but it’s not been explored. I will, however, explain how I came up with it and what I mean by it. Tempers will rise, I’m sure, but that is an opportunity for debate on a serious issue.
How many people who want to be parents prepare for parenthood and acquire the psychological tools to be effective parents? There are no parenting classes in most areas. The assumption is that parenting comes naturally, but it doesn’t, and the challenges in raising children are many and unknowable at the child’s birth.
How many think that if you throw enough money at a kid or therapy, things will improve? In psychology, we call this making the child the IP (identified patient) when there are family issues no one wants to discuss. What would drive a young girl to write on her Facebook page, “I wish I had a lobotomy?”
Babies are cute, curious, and can be endlessly demanding but also endearing. They require a significant effort on the part of parents or caretakers. It is then that they are rapidly acquiring skills related to how to respond and what to expect of adults.
For too many, who are unprepared for children, it is very similar to what happens when a puppy comes into the home. It has to be trained, learns how to behave or learns tricks, and responds with glee to encouragement. They are incredibly loveable, but puppies become dogs, and it is then that the adorable, bumbling, silly behaviors fade.
Some dog owners will decide that they only wanted puppy love, not adult dog responsibilities. In summer vacation areas, dogs are abandoned to fend for themselves after the summer comes to a close.
Others give the dog away, abandon it on the road, or neglect it. The neglected part is where puppies share something with kids who are growing into their pre-teen and teen years. No longer “puppies,” these kids may feel neglected, and this feeling is compounded now by the trials of the pandemic.
The Rise in Abuse
Parental frustration, fear, and anger intensify in times of a pandemic when schools are closed. It is then that child abuse, as well as spouse abuse, rears its ugly head.
In a study in the UK during the pandemic the rise in child abuse was startling.
In just one month, the number of new cases rose by 1493% compared with the same period in the previous three years, pointing to a “silent pandemic” in 2020, suggest the authors. They compared the numbers of new cases of head injury caused by physical abuse among very young children…
Upon presentation to the hospital, the report was disquieting in the extreme.
The results revealed blood pooling in the brain (subdural haemorrhage) in 6 infants; brain swelling in 4; bruising of the brain tissue (parenchymal contusion) in 4; skull fractures in 4; a bleed on the brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage) in 3; and bone fractures elsewhere in 3 of the infants.
Most of the children came from lower-income homes where financial deprivation was obviously due to the pandemic.
Two factors noted were that children were spending more time with their parents and the usual reporting agencies were not actively aware of the abuse; schools being a primary source of information.
In another study, the prospects for families with children remain dire.
Noting that, while these issues exist currently, there will also be long-term child neglect concerns as the pandemic continues to spread across the nation and lingers over weeks and months. (It) will continue to impact lives after COVID-19 runs its course…
What do neglected and abused kids, who have no school activities to relieve the stress and protect them from harm, do now? And what do they begin to think about? Where is their escape?
Kids, Suicide and the Pandemic
Escape from a cruel or cold home isn’t always possible, except for the ultimate escape, suicide. Suicide begins to take on the appeal of relief.
Reports are coming out of the Far East where international health-related agencies are noting disturbing trends.
Especially concerning, say UNICEF and regional mental health experts, are anecdotal and statistical reports that show suicides and suicidal thoughts are going up, in particular among adolescents. Statistics reported by Bharat Gautam, clinical psychologist for the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, document 134 reports of suicide among adolescents from March 24 to April 23 — and 127 the prior month.
A study in Japan did not reveal any increase in child and adolescent suicide rates but did indicate serious concerns. Before the school closures in April, the researchers found no notable increase in reported suicides in children, but there may have been a change the following month.
Given that suicides among children and adolescents reportedly peak at the beginning of school semesters in Japan, suicide rates may have increased when school restarted in June 2020. In South Korea, the need for suicide prevention and the availability of treatment owing to cultural stigma and parental reluctance to admit mental health need is evident. Similar to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic where the medical and public health staff alone cannot be relied on for controlling the pandemic, there is an urgent need for the central government in each country to take bold, innovative and courageous actions that are aimed at suicide prevention in adolescents.
One operator on a suicide hotline for adolescents indicated the primary driving forces in heightened anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation as students’ “main concerns have been sadness over not seeing their friends, not going to school, being stuck at home, nagging by parents. And they don’t seem to know what to do to relieve how they feel.”
A UK study found similar concerns related to lockdown and suicide among children. The first 56 days of lockdown were viewed as most significant when suicide may have increased. The data set, however, is not large enough to make definitive conclusions.
“Comparing 2020 with 2019 gave similar results. In 12 (48%) of the 25 post-lockdown deaths, factors related to Covid-19 or lockdown were thought to have contributed to the deaths.”
No Clear Conclusions
Whether through lack of statistical collection or unwillingness to admit children have committed suicide, the research so far carries warnings but no hard data.
We do know, however, that as the pandemic continues and children continue to be destabilized in routines and live with unemployed and financially strapped parents, the warning signs are up.
As one researcher said, “These results provide some insight on the impact COVID-19 is having on the general U.S. population. Practitioners should be prepared for what will likely be a significant mental health fall-out in the months and years ahead.” Included in that “fall-out” will, unquestionably, be children.
Accurately tracking suicides in children, as was noted by Faberow and Schneidman, is hampered by the deaths that are seen as “childhood accidents.” Children, however, do not break (at that time) 45rpm records and swallow them in play. Nor do all the dead “playing” children put nooses around their necks and toss them over shower rods.
Child suicide statistics may be similar to the suicide data for physicians where death certificates may indicate a medical illness rather than a gunshot wound. The reason for physician suicide stats being skewed is multi-factorial and can be shame, insurance reimbursement, or professional courtesy.
The pandemic will not quickly cease to exist, and with each day, the stress increases as lives are disrupted, and economic burdens become unbearable. These two factors alone require a commitment to suicide/treatment awareness and depression in children and adults.
We are teetering on the brink of a cliff and extreme caution to save lives must be utilized.