Towards the end of last year, the suicide of an 11-year-old boy from Kirinyaga sent shockwaves across the country. He had dug his own grave, telling his grandmother, that the deep hole she had found him digging was to plant a banana stem.
She convinced him to cover it back up, but a few hours later, he hanged himself using a rope inside the house.
Why? His grandmother had no idea, she said there had been no signs of him being in any sort of distress. At that time, the police said that initial findings hinted at the possibility that the boy's suicide could have been caused by his grandparents' delay in buying him new Christmas clothing with funds sent by his mother, who lived in Qatar.
Around the same time, a Form Three girl at Tala Girls also took her own life, leaving a note that explained why she did it. She had been accused of theft, and the note alleged that the school’s administration did not believe her explanation when she tried to defend herself.
"I explain something, you create your own. I told you people that I am not responsible for the lost pencils, but you still believe in your instincts that I am the one," read the note.
"Well, only God knows. Since I do not want to cause more trouble in this school and make my mum suffer again because of me, let me cut off. May God bless you for always encouraging me; bye-bye, coming to meet you, Dad.”
To some people, these would be seemingly trivial reasons to take such drastic action, but to children, it does seem like the end of the world. What are some factors that generally lead to suicide in children?
Researchers from the Centre for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the US and from the NIMH Intramural Research Programme analysed data from 134 children between the ages of five and 11 who died by suicide between 2013 and 2017.
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“Mental health concerns were identified in a third (31.4 per cent) of the suicide deaths examined, with the most common diagnoses being attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. Trauma, including suspected or confirmed cases of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, was seen in more than a quarter (27.1 per cent) of children who died by suicide. Of children who were reported to have experienced trauma, almost half (40.6 per cent) had experienced multiple traumatic events,” reads a report on the research, posted by the US’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
“Family-related problems, such as divorce, custody disputes, parental substance use, or a family history of suicide or mental health concerns, were seen in more than a third (39.8 per cent) of children who died by suicide. School problems, such as expulsion, changing schools, or suspension, were also reported for almost a third (32 per cent) of children who died by suicide.”
It is extremely crucial to get help for a child with suicidal tendencies, as NIMH says that young children who attempt suicide are six times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide again in adolescence.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that children and adolescents thinking about suicide may make openly suicidal statements or comments such as, "I wish I was dead," or "I won't be a problem for you much longer."
Other warning signs associated with suicide, according to the academy, can include changes in eating or sleeping habits, frequent or pervasive sadness, withdrawal from friends, and family, and regular activities; frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue and so on, decline in the quality of schoolwork and preoccupation with death and dying.
If you suspect that your child may be depressed or suicidal, the academy recommends asking them about it. You can use questions like, “Are you feeling sad or depressed?”
“Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?” “Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?”
“Rather than putting thoughts in your child's head, these questions can assure that somebody cares and will give your child the chance to talk about problems. Parents, teachers, and friends should always err on the side of caution and safety. Any child or adolescent with suicidal thoughts or plans should be evaluated immediately by a trained and qualified mental health professional,” says the academy.