Children at Risk of Suicide Need Adults to Listen and Show Care

Children’s summer holidays are coming to an end. Some children are looking forward to the resumption of school, while others are anxious about going back to class. Since it is a time of year when suicide increases, it is important for the adults around children to show that the adults are there for them.

A total of 514 elementary, junior high and high school students committed suicide in 2022, a record high.

Since 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic started, the number of suicides among children has been rapidly increasing. Stress from restrictions on their daily lives and falling behind in studies, among other reasons, are believed to be behind the increase. Truancy and bullying are also on the rise, indicating the deteriorating environment surrounding children.

The number of suicides among children is especially high in August and September. Around the end of their summer holidays, it is especially important for adults to pay closer attention to children’s daily activities. The hope is that adults will keep an eye out for small SOS signals and signs of danger.

If adults notice seemingly minor changes in children, such as insomnia or loss of appetite, it is essential to ask, “What’s wrong?” Then, it is vital to listen to what they say.

If adults scold or dismiss children when they confess, “It’s tough to live,” they will close their minds. Adults need to accept their pain, be there for them and calmly let children know that the adults are concerned about them.

The government has stepped up efforts to raise awareness for suicide prevention, calling on children in distress via social media or YouTube to contact counseling services. On Aug. 15, Keiko Nagaoka, the education, culture, sports, science and technology minister, publicized a message that included the words, “Don’t keep things to yourself.”

In conjunction with this season, private organizations that support children are also introducing places online that young people can casually visit. It is also helpful to provide them with places outside of school and home, such as free schools and kodomo shokudo cafeterias that provide free or inexpensive meals, where they can take a break and relax.

Many people who contemplate suicide are said to be in a state of depression. In Nagano Prefecture, a task force of doctors, lawyers and other experts is providing support to schools as a system to care for children at risk.

An effective approach would be to expand such efforts nationwide and check children’s mental health while making use of a learning device distributed to all students. If a child is found to be in poor mental health, it is necessary for the task force to be able to provide immediate support.

There is also a movement in which families of children who have taken their own lives are calling for an investigation into the causes of their deaths, and demanding that the schools verify whether there were any problems with the schools’ guidance or other activities.

Children rarely leave a suicide note, and in many cases the causes are unknown. It is significant to clarify the facts involving such deaths to prevent recurrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 17, 2023)