Warning signs that a child might have suicidal thoughts

HealthBullyingLouis KrausRush University Medical CenterChicago Tribune

Suicide by young children is extremely rare, but experts say parents and teachers need to be aware of the warning signs in children suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts.

Last week, Ashlynn Conner, 10, of Ridge Farm, Ill., was found hanged with a scarf in her closet. Her family said bullying by children at school and in the neighborhood drove her to commit suicide.

Authorities still are investigating and have not made any conclusions about whether the girl's death was a suicide or if bullying was a factor.

"In younger children, signs of depression can be due to both environmental and biological reasons," said Dr. Louis Kraus, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "For a 10-year-old to think about this … it had to be something that was in her thoughts for a period of time.

"School systems need to be keenly aware that younger kids can be depressed."

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens and sixth for kids ages 5 to 14, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Another study found that about 250 to 300 children in the younger group die by suicide each year.

Experts say warning signs include change in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends and family, and making "final arrangements" such as giving away prized possessions.

Bullying often plays a role in child suicide, and schools are responding with stricter policies and procedures to protect victims, experts say.

In Illinois, many schools have anti-violence programs, but a new anti-bullying task force has called for a "transformation" and come up with the most sweeping recommendations yet, including recognizing the role that racism, sexism and homophobia play in creating a hostile environment.

brubin@tribune.com

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