Suicide stalks primary targets

20th February 2004 at 00:00
I was pleased to read your article on teenage suicide (Friday magazine, TES, January 30). School staff must be made aware of the possibility, and of ways to help those at risk. However, to discuss teenage suicide is not enough - suicide is also a very real possibility at primary age.

There was a time when it was considered that primary school children were unaware of suicide as an option, and to discuss it would have "put the idea into their heads". This may still be the case in youngsters who receive all the benefits of a secure and loving family life, but for a rapidly increasing number of unhappy children leading chaotic lives, suicide is very much in their minds. Suicide is in fact the sixth leading cause of death among all young people between the ages of five and 14.

Factors which may lead to suicide in adults and teenagers, including hopelessness, low self-esteem and isolation are experienced by the under-10s, too, but because we don't recognise the possibility, we don't talk to them about it. The exam pressure faced by teens also looms large in the primary phase with Sats in Years 2 and 6 - teachers have spoken out about the distress seen in some children since these tests were introduced.

As a headteacher in a difficult area, I saw far too many incidents of junior-age children trying to kill themselves. To cite just a few examples:

* A 10-year old who climbed over to the wrong side of a bannister and hung over the stairwell saying he was going to drop and he didn't care if he died;

* An eight-year-old who attempted to hang himself from a coat peg with his jumper;

* The same eight-year-old tried to climb out of a first-floor window;

* A nine-year-old who cut her wrist with scissors having seen that happen on Home and Away;

* Another nine-year-old, having had a row with her mother and shouting "I'm going to do what you do", took a serious overdose of her mother's pills which resulted in hospitalisation.

If we want to stem the flood of teenage suicides and self-harm, then we must talk to our youngest pupils. The fact that ChildLine reports calls from suicidal six-year-olds should bring us very quickly to our senses.

Pam Denton

52 Batley Road

Wakefield

West Yorkshire

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