A few days ago my roommate came home from the elementary school where she tutors with some startling news.
Two children in the rural, North Carolina elementary school tried to commit suicide in the same day. Both of them took prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets and attempted to overdose. The children are now in stable condition.
Another example of attempted child suicide happened in Raleigh, N.C., a few weeks ago. An 11-year-old boy was sent to the hospital for attempted suicide after he was bullied for liking My Little Pony, according to ABC Local.
These tragic stories are an opportunity to bring about awareness of behavioral health disorders in children. Children, like adults, can suffer from debilitating illnesses like depression. These disorders often go untreated in children because parents assume the behavior is typical while the child is growing physically and emotionally.
According to WebMD, depressive symptoms in children include irritability or anger, continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness, social withdrawal, changes in appetite or sleep, crying, fatigue, physical complaints that don’t respond to treatment, inability to function, guilt or impaired thinking.
Children who show these symptoms deserve to be monitored and treated with care before suicidal thoughts occur. There is a stigma associated with mental disorders that may cause parents to overlook symptoms when a child desperately needs help.
By becoming more knowledgeable about mental disorders as a society, the stigma will fade and more people will receive the help they need.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), children exposed to violence, life-threatening events or traumatic losses are at greater risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide.
Because of this, NASP suggests that parents, teachers and other school personnel should be particularly observant of children who have experienced a personal loss, abuse or previous traumatic event. Children who have these risk factors and who have been directly impacted by or witnessed another crisis such as a school shooting are most vulnerable.
In the case of the little boy from Raleigh, I argue that bullying is also a serious and traumatic event. Bullying is a nation-wide issue that must be taken with the utmost seriousness and effort. There are numerous task forces dedicated to helping this epidemic that plagues this country’s schools.
Carrie Goldman, the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, makes an intriguing argument in an article on the Huffington Post.
She writes, “Does a child’s predisposition for depression and anxiety exist prior to the bullying and only become exacerbated by the bullying? Or does the bullying cause the depression and anxiety?”
Although these questions remain unanswered, what we can all agree on is that bullying causes serious psychological damage and can lead to anger, continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness, social withdrawal, changes in appetite or sleep, crying, fatigue, inability to function, guilt or impaired thinking.
A study in JAMA Psychiatry looked at the long-term psychological effects of bullying and found that kids who had been victims only (who never bullied others) had greater risk for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia as adults, according to Forbes.com. This shows that the negative effects of bullying are real and should not be ignored.
This was my attempt to spread awareness of behavioral health disorders in children. The consequences of bullying and childhood depression can be severe. The stakes are high to change our culture’s way of thinking about mental illnesses in both children and adults.
Hilary Burns is a senior at Wake Forest University from Cape Cod, Mass. Hilary has a passion for storytelling and has been published in multiple national publications including USA TODAY, Huffington Post and USAirways Magazine. She hopes to pursue a career in the exciting journalism industry after graduation in May 2014. When she isn’t writing or editing, Hilary is in a yoga class or planning a future dream trip to Europe.