Last week’s death of a 7-year-old Detroit boy who is believed to have hanged himself as he faced bullying at school and the separation of his parents should be a wakeup call to all families and communities, psychologists say.
The tragedy should also prompt African-Americans to dispel the myths about the need for counseling and mental health when a child is troubled, psychologists say.
“Our children need to know that they are loved. They need to know that they are important,” said George Fleming, a clinical psychologist in Detroit. “I am not trying to indict anyone here, but someone along the way failed this child,” Fleming told BlackAmericaweb.com.
“This child was feeling hopelessness and helplessness. He decided that death was better than life,” Fleming said. “He was a victim. That is not an indication that he had mental health issues.”
The child, who is said to have been teased at school because he was the only male in the home with eight females, was discovered by his 14-year-old sister last week, according to published reports.
He was hanging from a bunk bed with a belt around his neck. Once the family forced their way into the room, they called 911. Prior to his death, the boy’s mother is said to have left the home to talk with the pastor about the child, according to Detroit police.
Suicide among small children is rare according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the most recent year for which youth suicide rates are available, children between the ages of 5 and 14 accounted for less than 1 percent or 265 of the 36,951 suicide deaths nationwide in 2009.
While the bullying is said to have occurred at school, psychologists say teachers and administrators usually are the last ones to know if a child is being bullied.
“A child’s peers will know if he is being bullied, or maybe his desk mate will know, but teachers usually don’t know,” said Yvette Harris, co-author of The African American Child: Development and Challenges.
Children who are troubled by bullying and other pressures at school will show some signs,” Harris told BlackAmericaweb.com. “You may notice regressive behaviors. You may notice that the child is withdrawn,” she said.
When parents notice unusual behavior in their children, they should seek some outside help and support.
“It’s not an indictment of your parenting skills to seek resources to help your child,” she said.
Bullying is an increasing problem for children in African-American community, but there are not a lot of statistics that reflect the trend, she said. “Most of the statistics point to problems in white, suburban communities,” Harris said.
Detroit, Fleming said, poses even more problems for school children because of the impact on the city’s economics and the financial problems in schools.
The high crime, home foreclosures and high unemployment also take a toll on the children. Within the first three months of 2012, five children in Detroit were shot – many by stray bullets and some of them fatal.
In the schools, problems persist.
“So many services our children need are being cut,” Fleming said. “Schools have counselors, but if you are a school counselor with 300 or 400 students on your case load, what do you do? You triage them. You see the ones first that you believe to have the most severe need.”
Here are some of the warning signs anti-bullying groups and suicide prevention group encourage parents to watch for in their children:
-Displaying signs of depression such as ongoing sadness, withdrawal from others, losing interest in favorite activities, or trouble sleeping or eating.
-Talking about or showing an interest in death or dying.
-Engaging in dangerous or harmful activities, including reckless behavior, substance abuse or self-injury.
-Giving away favorite possessions and saying goodbye to people.
-Saying or expressing that they can't handle things anymore.
-Making comments that things would be better without them.