By Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner Administration on Children, Youth and Families at HHS
The second leading cause of death in children 10-14 years old is suicide, according to a 2018 CDC WISQARS report. This report also shows suicide as the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. These are not just statistics, these are precious lives lost, children and youth who for a multitude of reasons turned to suicide as a way out of their current pain. These statistics can change; however, because research and experience show that connecting in positive ways with a child or young person can change the trajectory of their life and may actually save their life by providing hope and encouragement in the midst of despair.
The Administration on Children, Youth and Families is comprised of two bureaus. The Children’s Bureau focuses on improving the lives of children and families through programs that reduce child abuse and neglect, increase the number of adoptions, and strengthen foster care. The Family and Youth Services Bureau supports organizations that work to reduce the risk of youth homelessness, adolescent pregnancy and domestic violence. Success in any one of these areas is dependent upon relationships - between parents and their children, kids and their peers, kids and other caring adults in their world.
Did you know that when we offer proactive and preventive solutions to bullying, we may also be preventing suicide? Data shows that kids who are bullied can experience negative physical and mental health issues including depression, anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Imagine feeling any one of these, such as loneliness, throughout your childhood and even into adulthood. A veil of loneliness now clouds your perception of people, situations and circumstances and impacts your decisions around academic, relational and social choices, threatening to derail the hopes and dreams you once had.
Data reveals that 51% of elementary-age children feel alone or left out. 48% said that verbal bullying hurts far more than other types of bullying. Over 78% of elementary students are concerned about bullying. And they should be, since the long-term effects can cause mental health issues that often lead to suicidal ideation. A Snapshot on Bullying in America lists suicide as an increased risk factor. Bullying is described as “…unwanted, intentional, and repeated aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance – and if it happens with computers or mobile devices, it is called cyberbullying.” Online safety includes awareness of cyberbullying, which can have devastating effects on children and youth whose self-image is often closely linked to their social media presence.
The good news is that prevention is possible. Healthy relationships with caring adults and mentors can play a pivotal role in teaching children and youth to recognize inappropriate bullying behavior and empower them to reach out for support. Proactively equipping children and youth with a developed sense of self-awareness helps them recognize when and how to seek help before it’s too late - which is especially important when it comes to suicide. Just like learning the ABC’s and 123’s, programs and practices that shape character, build leadership, teach communication skills, and emphasize well-being can strengthen a young person’s ability to address bullying in a proactive manner. Like reading, writing and arithmetic, once instilled, these pillars of success provide kids with a head start to living a healthy, productive and successful life.