Each year, May 9th is designated as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day shines a national spotlight on the importance of caring for every child’s mental health and reinforces that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development.
This year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention: Strategies That Work.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34. It is far more rare—though not unheard of—for children younger than 10 to commit suicide, but it does happen. About four out of every 500,000 children below the age of 12 commit suicide annually, reports the CDC.
At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, 20 percent of all admissions come to us as crisis situations, including kids who talk and act as if they don’t want to live.
“Both children and teens are at risk of depression and suicide when they experience traumatic events in their lives, such as divorce, death of a loved one, abuse or illness,” says Elissa Smilowitz, LCSWR and Coordinator of Triage & Emergency Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.
Parents must be open to believing the risk of suicide is real and not assume that their child or teen’s behavior is just a normal part of adolescence, adds Smilowitz. “Parents say, ‘Teenagers are supposed to be moody, aren’t they?’ Yes, but it is the severity of the mood that parents need to look at.”
Smilowitz points out some of the warning signs: “Look for changes in their behavior that aren’t typical for them.”
Withdrawing from friends and family
Sleeping all day
Being depressed and crying often
Posting suicidal thoughts on the Internet
Talking about death and not being around anymore
Increasing aggressiveness or irritability
So, what do you do if you suspect your child or teen may be suicidal? The first step is to consult a mental health professional. The Guidance Center has a Triage & Emergency Services program that offers a rapid response to psychiatric emergencies. Our team will assess if the situation appears urgent and will make an appointment to see the child within 24 to 48 hours (if it’s deemed extremely urgent, we do advise you go to the Emergency Room).
It’s very important that you communicate your concern to your child in a loving, non-judgmental way, says Smilowitz. “Talking about suicide will not make your child more likely to act upon it,” she says. “The opposite is true. Also, let them know that you believe that getting help is not a weakness, but rather shows their strength.”
If you or a member of your family is in crisis, call North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971. You can also call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week