Dr Lyn O’Grady, manager of strategic projects at the Australian Psychological Society (APS), said that there should be more focus on suicide risk in children.
“There has been concern about youth suicide for some time now, but suicide risk in children has not received the attention it deserves,” she said.
“People find thinking about children and suicide confronting because there is still the notion that childhood is an innocent, safe and happy time. But suicidal ideation in children as young as seven does happen."
O'Grady said there is also a lot we as a society can do about it.
"Thinking about the needs of children and really listening to them means there is an opportunity to hear their distress and build better relationships with them. This is really key to minimising suicide risk.”
Kids Helpline data shows that 10 per cent of calls from children aged five to 12 years old were suicide related.
Statistics released earlier this month revealed that over half of all calls to Kids Helpline went unanswered, with a key stakeholder calling for an additional $5 million in funding to help the counselling service meet demand.
O’Grady said that common stresses for children include family breakdown or conflict, moving house, changing schools, perceived or real learning problems, social issues and getting in trouble at school.
Adults must not dismiss children’s concerns by suggesting that they are just copying something they heard elsewhere, O’Grady said.
“They might have heard someone else talk about suicide, but they are still mentioning it for a reason, it’s not just that they’re trying to get attention in a superficial way.
“You might say: ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, what’s happened, what’s going on?’ It might also mean asking them about whether they’ve tried to do anything to harm themselves.
“That’s a really hard question to ask children, but if they are planning something they will tell you.”
Eighty-eight suicides by children between the ages of 5 and 14 were recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between 2010 and 2014.
If one of your students or a family member needs help, please contact:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800