While suicide is not typically associated with young children, a new study finds that this problem is present even in elementary schools.

Temple University researchers interviewed more than 400 school social workers about their experience with suicide or suicide threats in their schools. School social workers are usually the ones who deal with this kind of crisis when it surfaces.

 

Ninety percent of them have encountered suicidal youths in their schools. Almost 100 percent of them work in high schools, and 75 percent work in elementary schools.

One common misperception about suicidal behavior is that it starts in adolescence, said Jonathan Singer, who conducted the study.

"What's true is that adolescents are more likely to make attempts, but kids at the elementary school level are making suicide attempts, and some of them are being hospitalized for suicidal behavior," Singer said.

Hospitalization because of suicide attempts was reported by 40 percent of social workers in elementary schools, Singer found. And 7 percent of those working in elementary schools had experienced a death due to suicide, shedding light on a grim reality.

"These kids not only are capable of having thoughts of wanting to die, but they are capable of actually acting on those thoughts," he said.

Singer said this issue has to be addressed and people shouldn't pretend that it is not happening.

School social workers generally reported they felt well prepared to recognize and address suicidal behavior, but Singer cautioned that all the training materials were developed with older kids in mind.

He said those working with young children should be aware that their age does not mean that they are not at risk.