Expert sheds light on recent child suicides

February 21, 2009 10:06:33 AM PST
Another child in the Chicago area has committed suicide. Chicago police say 11-year old Sierra Brandon hanged herself in her south side home on Wednesday. Her father found her on a clothing hook inside a closet. It follows the suicide of another child in Springfield last week - the third of a youngster in Illinois in three weeks.

"For most children that attempt suicide particularly this young, most likely there is probably some other type of overriding mental health issue that perhaps has been missed," said Dr. Louis Kraus.

Child psychiatrist Louis Kraus is disturbed by the rash of suicides in children, including 10-year-old Aquan Lewis who killed himself in the bathroom of his Evanston school early this month.

The doctor has worked extensively with troubled teens and younger patients, and was instrumental in getting Arizona to revamp its treatment of juvenile offenders, who were suffering from a suicide rate of 60 to 70 percent in the 1990s mainly because of undiagnosed mental illness.

Kraus says stressors such as divorce, death of family members, and school problems with grades and friends can inflict heavy damage on young and fragile psyches.

"There is a real morbidity and mortality associated with depression and other types of mental illness - the earlier we can identify these problems the quicker we can intervene the more kids we can help," said Dr. Kraus.

While police and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services are releasing few details about these latest cases, experts say parents must be vigilant if they hear or see from kids.

Threats or warnings about:

- hurting or killing oneself
- hurting or killing someone
- running away from home
- damaging or destroying property

And it's key, Dr. Kraus says, to ask troubled kids, even very young ones, if they have thoughts of harming themselves.

"One of the important parts first off as a parent they need to make sure a chld can feel comfortable to talk to them even when things are not going well, even when they have had a problem at school, or even when they have been sent to the principal's office, even when they have gotten bad grades -- a child should always feel comfortable being able to talk to their parents," said Dr. Kraus.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death behind accidents and homicides for teenagers and it is the sixth leading cause of death of children.