Children as young as six can be affected by suicidal thoughts, while the paediatric clinic in Luxembourg has admitted patients as young as ten. But how to deal with this concerning, if rare, phenomenon?
Luxembourg City's paediatric hospital, the Kannerklinik, recorded an average of 25 hospitalisations annually in 2021 and 2022 following suicide attempts made by children. In 19 cases, the patients were under the age of 13.
Doctor Claudio Pignoloni, head of the child psychiatry department, explained that children's relationships with their parents or other important figures play an essential role for young patients.
"These are often children who have experienced different types of trauma during their early development. In particular arguments in the family, violence in all its forms, or extreme parenting issues, where the parents are struggling."
A number of factors can lead to a child contemplating suicide, such as a genetic predisposition, family life, environment or society, said Dr Pignoloni. Changing family structures, a parent's stress at work, or financial insecurity can also take their toll. "We often see parents who express negative feelings or who are themselves suffering from a psychiatric illness," added the child psychiatrist.
In such cases it is vital to take care of parents as quickly as possible so that they can preserve a good bond with their child - one of the key methods of preventing suicide in children and young teenagers.
Signs that should be taken seriously
In the event that a child speaks openly about suicidal thoughts, Dr Pignoloni advises parents to take them seriously and discuss the matter with the child while asking concrete questions. "This will bring them peace of mind and allow them to feel that someone is listening to them and understanding their feelings," he added.
Other signs that should be taken seriously are heightened sensitivity, sudden behavioural issues, isolation, worsening school performance, or reduced participation in games and play. Often a visit to a specialist can prove useful for such cases, although this is sometimes complicated to arrange due to services becoming overwhelmed.
Dr Pignoloni said he regrets the absence of a multidisciplinary structure for child psychiatry in Luxembourg, which could allow for better suicide prevention.
If you or a loved one are affected by this issue, you may find more information and resources on the suicide prevention website.