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Young Suicide Prompts Experts To Reflect On Awareness Programs

Franklin County Coroner Jane Gorniak said it’s the youngest suicide she has seen in her career. An eight year old girl from Columbus died four days after hanging herself. It is an unusual case. Suicide among very young children is very low. But WOSU reports experts say there’s a need to increase awareness among elementary-age kids. It’s incomprehensible. A child, not yet a teenager, takes his or her own life. But it happens on rare occasions. Nationwide Children's Hospital researcher Jeff Bridge said fewer than 10 children under the age of 10 commit suicide each year in the U.S. You might think children that young don’t fully comprehend death and suicide. But Bridge points to a new study he says reveals youngsters do understand. “Up to 40 percent of teens who attempt suicide made a first suicide attempt in elementary or middle school," Bridge said. "The literature shows us that children do understand suicide and the concept of death.â€? Suicide among Ohio youth has steadily increased during the past decade. Recent data from the state health department shows 57 children – that’s kids 18 and younger – committed suicide in 2011. The media took notice that year because the rate doubled. But there were similar numbers in the preceding years: 54 youth suicides in 2009; 58 in 2008. Some experts, like Mary Brennen-Hofmann, point to the Internet and technology as one explanation for the increase. Brennan-Hofmann with North Central Mental Health Services’ has worked in the field for 25 years. She said, despite its name, “social mediaâ€? can isolate people, and coupled with its use in bullying it can be tragic for children. “Children can have depression. They can have conduct disorder. They can have some of these anxiety disorders. That’s very important because we know that’s a connection with suicide," Brennen-Hofmann noted. Children who experience divorce, school issues and other crises are at an increased risk for depression and suicide. Beginning this school year, Ohio law requires many school employees – teachers, counselors and nurses – to receive training to spot warning signs. And Children’s Hospital researcher Jeff Bridge said healthcare providers could place more emphasis on mental health among elementary-age children. “I think we could be more comprehensive, more systematic in the ways we talk about mental health with children," he said. "In the way that we have regular health checkups for just our general well-being, we can also be open to and asking questions about mental health in children.â€? Brennan-Hofmann also called for more state and federal funding for awareness and prevention programs.