Just days after beginning fourth grade, a 9-year-old Colorado boy committed suicide after being bullied by classmates for coming out as gay. He told his mother previously and had a history of being bullied and believed that this was a factor in his suicide.
Local authorities informed the media that Denver Public Schools crisis counselors met with children and teachers attempting to cope with this incredible tragedy.
This tragedy shines a light on the way media outlets have chosen to portray the story, with some publications unintentionally putting blame on the victim of the bullying instead of the bully, who is at fault. Though unintentional, it is important for the media to remember and for the public to realize that the boy did not choose to kill himself because he was gay, but instead because he was being bullied for being gay.
Though suicides rates for people under 13 are lower than teens and adults, experts have been paying close attention to this number in recent years and to what makes suicide-related behavior differ for children. For younger children, it can be more difficult to put the brakes on their emotional responses because they can be unsure of how to handle them, which means the series of thoughts before committing suicide can escalate dangerously quickly.
Suicides in the US for children age 1-12, per 100,000
From 1999 to 2016, there were 1,430 children up to age 12 took their own lives in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data does not account for non-fatal suicide attempts, but the percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and attempts in the US nearly doubled between 2008-2015, according to a study published in June.
In a CDC report, it was found that both the victims of bullying and the bullies themselves are prone to "serious and lasting negative effects" on their mental health, and are most likely to report higher levels of suicide-related behaviors and thoughts.
Typically males are found to be overrepresented in suicide statistics because though they commit suicide at a higher rate than females, females have higher rates of unsuccessful attempts. These children are at crucial points in their lives and need to be empowered to recognize that being emotionally distressed is a valid feeling, and that there is help available to get through it.
There are a number of reasons why children bring themselves to suicide — relationship issues with parents and friends, undiagnosed ADHD and feelings of depression — and given their ages, children naturally are unsure of how to solve some of these serious issues. Mental health issues are a prevalent issue, with ages 5-11 being more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, whereas 12-14 year-olds are more likely to have depression.
If you, or someone you know, is dealing with suicidal thoughts, dial 911 or check this list of available helplines in your province.