The Alarming Rise in Child Suicide and What You Should Know

Youth suicide is on the rise. After 15 years of decline, rates took a steady increase at the turn of the 21st century. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 15,141 youth suicides (ages 5-18) in the U.S. between 1999 and 2009. Between 2010 and 2016, there were 11,939 youth suicides, an average increase of 31 percent in six years over rates of the previous decade. Let’s think about that. These statistics start with kids as young as five years old.

The CDC reports suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 12-18. These tragedies leave many families, friends and loved ones asking, “why?” Youth interviewed after suicide attempts often report feelings of despair, emptiness, wanting revenge or needing an escape. When young people experience intense emotions related to difficult situations, such as breakups, a recent loss or abuse, they often seek out ways to regain a sense of control over their lives. This may come in the form of healthy coping skills like talking to a trusted adult or journaling to make sense of their feelings, or they may resort to unhealthy mechanisms such as self-harm or self-medicating. If a child takes an unhealthy path, he or she is at an increased risk of suicide.


Knowing what is happening in children’s lives and recognizing when to get help are the best ways to keep children safe. If you notice your child is struggling, having a conversation with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician is a great first step. They can serve as a guide before a situation dangerously escalates, and they can help rule out chemical imbalances or other medical diagnoses that may contribute to changes in behavior. If you feel something is amiss, it is important to take action.

What if I know a child grappling with suicidal thoughts?

Many times, individuals who are considering suicide show clear signs of trouble. Signs can include: talking or writing about death; loss of interests; withdrawing from friends and family; changes in appearance or decline in hygiene; trying to access medications or weapons; giving away possessions; or showing intense anger or hopelessness followed by sudden calm. If you have suspicions about a child, talk to them openly and directly to determine the help they need.

When talking to someone about suicide, whether you are a parent or another trusted adult, you need to know how urgent the situation is. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Show confidence in the face of crisis
  • Be up front about your concerns
  • Ask them directly about suicidal thoughts; don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide”
  • Recognize they may not be honest, so observe their behavior
  • Listen and validate their feelings; don’t be judgmental
  • Ask them to give you specific details about their thoughts including how they would commit the act, when, and if they have the means to carry it out
  • If the child is in imminent danger, DO NOT leave him alone and seek medical help immediately
  • Do not mistake a cry for help as a ploy for attention; all thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously

Some youth may be embarrassed to admit they have thoughts about suicide. Under no circumstances should you promise to keep someone’s thoughts about suicide a secret. Explain that as a person who cares about the youth’s wellbeing, that this is not a secret you can keep. Assure them they should not feel ashamed or alone and thank them for being honest. Connect them with a counselor and offer to go with them for emotional support. If you are not the parent or guardian, encourage the youth to have an open conversation with their parents about how they are feeling. Continue to be there for them – your sustained support may be their greatest reinforcement.

Get real about suicide

Suicide is a hard topic to breach, but one that every parent should talk about with their child. In all likelihood, your child probably already knows about suicide either from popular teenage drama series like “13 Reasons Why,” popular YouTube videos, or any number of social media posts, movies, or maybe even real life experiences. Parents can’t hide children from the reality of suicide, but informing yourself about what children are seeing, and talking to them about what they’ve seen or heard can offer a powerful lifeline. Helping them to grasp the severity of suicide – no coming back, no opportunity for things to get better, no reward or satisfaction – will help to save lives.

Get help

Just because an imminent threat has passed doesn’t mean the danger is gone. The CDC estimates 90 percent of individuals who commit suicide were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of death.

“Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, have periods of improvement and worsening,” said Dr. John Wilkaitis, Medical Director for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Even though a child may seem okay, it is important to seek professional help to better understand and address the underlying cause of suicidal thoughts and feelings. Therapists can help youth develop a safety plan as well as aid them in developing positive coping skills to deal with intense emotions.”

Feeling alone is one of the most critical factors of suicide. Know that you are never truly alone; there are a number of resources available to those in crisis. Mississippi Department of Mental Health is the statewide provider for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. If someone is in imminent danger, go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you find you need someone to talk to about suicidal thoughts or difficult situations, seek out a local mental health organization or contact area churches about free counseling ministries.

Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

This article is shared with permission from Well-Being Magazine. It was originally
published in the magazine’s March/April 2018 issue. For more from Well-Being visit

Mayor Gives Official Proclamation for National Safe Place Week

The South Mississippi Children’s Center (SMCC), part of Canopy Children’s Solutions, hosted a special proclamation ceremony in honor of National Safe Place Week. The event, working in conjunction with the mayor’s office and Hattiesburg Fire Department (HFD), took place Thursday, March 22, 2018, at HFD Station No. 1.

Mayor Toby Barker

The ceremony included an official proclamation and remarks from the Hattiesburg mayor, the Honorable Toby Barker, and Canopy South Central Regional Director Tammy Miller in honor of National Safe Place Week. SMCC also recognized Safe Place sites who were in attendance with a certificate of appreciation for their partnership in the program, including HFD, Hattiesburg Police Department and the city library, among others.

Tammy MillerSafe Place is a national youth outreach and prevention program for young people under the age of 18, and up to 21 years of age in some communities, in need of immediate help and safety. As a collaborative community prevention initiative, Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place sites, making help readily available to youth in communities across the country.Safe Place site partnerSMCC is the Safe Place agency in south Mississippi, offering safety and shelter to youth in crisis in Forrest, Lamar, Covington, Jones, Stone and other surrounding counties and states. SMCC has 43 designated Safe Place sites throughout the region including local restaurants, libraries, daycare centers, youth organizations, and police and fire departments, where youth can go for immediate help and get connected with SMCC. These sites are designated by the black and yellow Safe Place sign.

“Youth who come to SMCC through Safe Place can stay at the shelter up to 21 days at no cost to the parent or guardian,” said Teri Gay, Case Manager for SMCC. “We ensure that basic needs are met for every child that enters the shelter as well as services that include individual and group counseling, referral, support, case management, educational services, recreational activities, medical (physical, dental, and vision exams), and other services as needed. We work on a safety plan and long-term plan to ensure youth return to a safe environment when they leave the shelter.”


Mississippi Safe Place Agencies

In addition to the proclamation ceremony, Canopy staff across the state wore the signature colors black and yellow to show support of Canopy’s Safe Place programs.

National Safe Place Week is designated for March 18-24, 2018. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of Safe Place in Lexington, Kentucky in 1983. Since that time, Safe Place has developed partnerships with 138 Safe Place agencies in 37 states nationwide with more than 21,000 partnering sites within local communities. Mississippi has three Licensed Safe Place Agency programs, including SMCC in Hattiesburg, and the Warren County Children’s Shelter, also part of Canopy Children’s Solutions, located in Vicksburg.

For more information Safe Place, please visit