At Heroes In Waiting, we’re on a critical mission to contribute to the mental wellness of children and youth. We do that every day with anti-bullying and peace-building programming that aims to teach kids things like empathy and understanding, culture-building, and healthy communication. During National Suicide Prevention Month, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge bullying behavior as a symptom and a risk factor for suicide ideation in kids.
We know that kids who respond aggressively to others – those who are labeled “bullies” – are at high risk of suicide, because they tend to treat not just others, but also themselves with aggression. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health tells us that by the age of 13, more than one-third of kids exhibiting bullying behavior have actively considered ending their lives. And almost half of both children who exhibit bullying behavior and those who are victims of it report suicide attempts or self-harm.
During National Suicide Prevention Month and beyond, here are three concrete actions grown-ups can take to intervene for the kids we love.
1. Be Aware of the Risk Factors
One of the first things parents and caregivers can do is be aware of the factors that statistically increase the likelihood of suicide ideation in kids. Along with bullying behavior, other risk factors include things like family history, mental health issues, and access to firearms or pills. Here are a few more:
- Social media use – Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, found that teens who spend five or more hours a day online are nearly twice as likely to have suicidal tendencies as those who spend less than an hour. (Check out these tips for monitoring and limiting your child’s time online.)
- Marginalized communities – A 2018 study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed the suicide rate among Black children between the ages of five and twelve is double that of white children.
- Foster care – Rates of suicide are three times higher for children in care than for children who live with their own families.
- Gender identity – According to a 2022 Trevor Project survey, 45% of the LGBTQ+ youth population have seriously considered suicide.
2. Watch for Warning Signs
Although many families and loved ones report no prior indications in kids who attempt suicide, our friends at Child Mind Institute have compiled this list of common warning signs as another way for parents, teachers, and caregivers to stay diligent:
- Isolation from friends and family
- Problems eating or sleeping
- Mood swings
- Reckless behavior
- Dropping grades
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Giving away belongings
- Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
- Talking about being a burden to others or not belonging
- Talking about suicide or wanting to die
- Writing or drawing about suicide or acting it out in play
3. Talk Openly with Your Kids
If you recognize any of the warning signs or suspect that your child may be experiencing suicide ideation, according to Child Mind Institute the best thing you can do is to ask them about it.
“Sometimes people are afraid that if they talk about it it will make suicidal thoughts more real, and suicide more likely to happen,” they say. But the truth is that most kids aren’t likely to admit they need help. Asking about suicide sends the message not only that you care, but also that struggling and asking for help is okay. If a child knows there’s a safe person in the family they can talk to, they feel less alone and more understood. And the conversation could be life-saving.