WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The recent suicide of a 14-year-old New Hanover High School student came as a shock to our community. Wilmington police were called out to investigate at the home where the high school freshman took her own life on September 25.
This was the first juvenile suicide in Wilmington in five years, according to statistics provided by the Wilmington Police Department. But nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in children over the age of ten, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most recent data available shows 517 children between the ages of 10-14 killed themselves in 2017.
“What we know about adolescent brains is they are still developing, so being able to think about consequences and permanency is really hard for them,” Cristen Williams, a licensed clinical social worker with Wilmington Health Access for Teens, explained. “[You] will hear them say things like, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. This life is too hard.’ Kids might say things like, ‘I wonder how many people will show up to my funeral?’ So really just feeling like [they] don’t have another option. Things are too heavy and too hard.”
Williams said children this age are still forming their identities, figuring out who they are, where they belong, and how they fit into the world. Sources familiar with the NHHS teen say she struggled with bullying before taking her life.
“Bullying can certainly be a factor in that but I think it goes a step beyond bullying," Williams said. "I think it’s how the individual is able to cope with the stressors that they have in their life. So it may be home relationships that are difficult, it may be school relationships or peer relationships that are difficult, and when we start seeing kids that are having difficulty making meaningful connections, it’s where we see the increase in suicidal thoughts.”
For those wondering how to help your own children or other young people who may be struggling with thoughts of killing themselves, experts say there are typically warning signs, and usually more than one.
“Take notice. The easiest thing is to recognize change. It can be an array of areas that can be a change of sleeping, a change in eating habits, giving things away. Not participating in things that they used to find enjoyable, if they start to withdraw... those are all kind of red flag warning signs,” Williams said.
Wilmington Health Access for Teens has School Wellness Centers on the four main high school campuses in New Hanover County, and students at other schools can get help at their main office on Oleander Drive.
New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) activated their Crisis Intervention Team to provide grief counseling at both New Hanover High School, and Williston Middle where the student who died used to attend.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss of life and we are working to assist our New Hanover HS students and staff in coping with it,” NHCS Spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum told WECT.
For parents worried that their child may be the victim of bullying, NHCS recommends first working with staff and administration at their child’s school. If they need additional resources after that, they can contact NHCS Behavior Specialist Judy Stubblefield, who can assist them and also direct them to additional services.