What can we do about children taking their own lives?

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in the UK, according to the latest figure from the Office for National Statistics – and it’s a preventable one. So what can be done?

The Macmillan Cancer Support charity says more work needs to be done to educate the public. It puts the average age of first suicide at 25 – and it’s a step in the right direction to say it’s not always a suicide note.

Fear of failing or being judged can stop people speaking up. And while the government says 1 in 4 young people who commit suicide are known to have taken their own life, doctors say the figure is far lower.

It’s a shame we don’t talk about it as much as we should. Many families don’t find out until after the fact and I think that’s where you begin to see the effects of suicide on families and communities.

Figures gathered by the BBC Newsnight Investigates team show 3,204 people – many of them children – attempted suicide in England in 2012.

The victims were aged between 12 and 25, and 86% had attempted suicide in the previous year – with the youngest being just 10.

With 82,000 of those attempts ending in death – children as young as nine are believed to have killed themselves.

But I want to know why kids are dying? And is there anything we can do about it? – that is, if they’re not all dead already?

Nurses say they too have witnessed bullying at school – and they feel they can’t act on it.

Often teachers aren’t trained enough to handle the complicated cases of adults who’ve killed themselves – and the response by some schools seems to often focus on punishing children for bad behaviour.

A few schools in Canterbury do have in place policies that help support youngsters who may have seen their friends commit suicide – but the NHS website’s admissions section doesn’t help, with this question: “Does caring for a child with suicidal thoughts qualify as mandatory support in schools?”

Teachers are pressured to intervene, said Michael Hinterley, who lost his daughter to suicide aged 18. His version was too many times that if he called the headteacher, he’d be threatened with going to prison.

That’s why, the BBC said, simply becoming an adult isn’t enough to stop kids from taking their own lives. Children as young as 11 can stay in care while their parents struggle to cope.

The average length of time between the age of 18 and the age of suicide was 9 years for young people, the BBC investigated.

Liz Clegg, who lost her son James in 2010 aged 18, took part in a Norfolk-based project that educates staff about suicide in children. She says she wanted to highlight that you can’t keep any child who has died by suicide from falling through the cracks.

And for at least a couple of years, her daughter Amy has been helping young people get the right support to stop young people killing themselves. She too wants young people to feel safer in schools – to know that they can talk about death with someone to be able to ask for help.

She says it was never her intention to kill herself, and part of her motivation to start the project was to help other children. If suicide isn’t talked about, they wonder, it won’t happen to me.

“It’s only with talking that people open up,” she said.

The Macmillan support campaign “Staying Safe” asks people to ask for help if a child is “struggling with an illness or life challenge” and sets clear expectations that hospitals should not discharge terminally ill children “on their own terms” – while they are still in pain.

Here are seven questions your child can ask you about suicide. They can also ask their teachers.

Leave a Comment