By Chris Croll
“I’ve seen dark before
But not like this
This is cold
This is empty
This is numb
The life I knew is over
The lights are out
I’m ready to succumb.”
Is this a journal entry written by a suicidal teen? Nope; these are the opening lyrics to the song “The Next Right Thing,” from Disney’s new movie,Frozen 2. Common Sense Media rates this movie as appropriate for children as young as age five.
I’m not surprised to see the subject of depression addressed in a movie for young children. Elementary and middle school guidance counselors across the country report seeing more anxious and depressed children in their offices than ever before. In a recent study, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that as many as 30% of children ages 6-12 report being mildly to severely depressed.
Overall, the rate of suicide among those aged 10 to 24 has shot up 56% between the years 2007 and 2017. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people under 24, after automobile crashes.
In Loudoun County, some estimate that 15-20 children under the age of 18 have died by suicide in the past five years. Hundreds more have been brought to the emergency room for suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. Exact numbers aren’t published for privacy reasons.
Experts are at a loss to explain the increase of very young depressed children. Some blame social media. Others blame lack of adequate sleep. Most agree that there is a relationship between bullying and suicidal behavior.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior (either being bullied or bullying others) are more likely to report higher levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who are not involved with bullying behavior.
One researcher noted increases in the number of suicides in the U.S. during the months school is in session. For this reason, school divisions, including Loudoun County Public Schools, have tightened bullying prevention policies and are investing millions of dollars in increased mental health support for students. Other states are requiring mental health education as part of the core curriculum. Some school districts are even going so far as to do mental health screenings for every student each year, much like they do vision and hearing screenings.
There are few things more frightening for a parent than hearing their child is so depressed that they want to end their life. There is a lack of resources available in our community to help families with an acutely suicidal child. The local Emergency Room is always an option. Loudoun County Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Developmental Services has staff available 7 a.m.-11 p.m. and can be reached at 703-777-0320. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached 24-hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. Experts say the most important thing a parent can do is to take threats of suicide seriously and to never to leave an at-risk child alone.
To help our youth build resilience for life’s inevitable ups and downs, local organizations like The Ryan Bartel Foundation offer suicide prevention programs such as, THE FORT, a weekend program that helps children as young as 11 to build positive social relationships with peers and mentors. Loudoun County middle and high school public school students are being trained to recognize the signs of depression and suicidal behavior in classmates through a national evidence-based program called, “Sources of Strength,” which has been shown to reduce suicide attempts by more than 40%.
The song from Frozen 2 ends with the lyrics, “So I’ll walk through this night … stumbling blindly toward the light … and do the next right thing.” Sometimes that’s all a parent can do—take the next best step forward—in the hopes it’s enough to save their child.
[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]