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Why Are One of Three Preteens Suicidal?

preteen photo A small study by the National Institutes of Health found that about a third of preteens suffer from suicidal ideation. The NIH didn’t speculate on why such a large number of preteens are suicidal, but it seems obvious that something in our culture is adversely affecting them.

In the study, 23 preteens screened positive for suicidal risk during hospital emergency room visits, while 79 screened negative. Researchers examined youth suicide risk at three urban children’s hospitals to see how frequently preteens ages 10 to 12 had such a risk.

The hospitals involved were Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; Children’s Hospital in Boston; and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. According to the screening study published in Hospital Pediatrics, one in five of the preteens who visited the ER for psychiatric issues had previously attempted suicide.

“Typically, suicidal thoughts and behaviors are seen in older teens,” Lisa Horowitz, a clinical scientist in the study, said in a news release. “It was troubling to see that so many preteens screened positive for suicidal risk, and we were alarmed to find that many of them had acted on their suicidal thoughts in the past.”

The suicide screening is routinely done whenever preteens and teens come to the emergency ward with any kind of issue. Betsy Novakovich, administrator of emergency services with the NCH Healthcare System in Collier, explained, “As a result of this process we have identified patients of all ages, including children, who are clearly experiencing depression and are in need of further assistance.”

Novakovich cited social media influences and bullying as two causes of preteen depression. She did not mention parenting. It is interesting how so many so-called experts are reluctant to consider parents as a possible source of a child depression or suicidal thoughts. They will focus on other children, on social media, drugs,

A case came to my attention recently of a mother who brought her 12-year-old daughter to see a therapist. The daughter, the mother said, suffered from depression. Almost as soon as the daughter began her session with the therapist, she began complaining that her mother wouldn’t let her breathe. Her mother totally dominated her life and treated her only child as if she were her personal slave. When the daughter told the mother she was depressed, the mother replied, “You’re just saying that to hurt me.”

As a result of this hurtful relationship with her mother, the girl said she often had impulses to throw herself in front of a subway train. “She doesn’t see who I really am,” the daughter cried. “Everything’s about her.”

“What about your father?” the therapist asked.

“He means well, but he’s afraid of my mother. He always backs her up no matter what. Sometimes he’ll come to my room and listen to me, but in the end he’s always back at her side.”

This case is not uncommon. I have encountered many similar cases. Right now in our culture parenting has been put on the back burner. We have made it less important and do not want to see it as responsible for our children’s mental illness. American culture is all about sparing the feelings of parents. This means that if parents are the main source of how children turn out (which they are), this fact can rarely be mentioned.

If we don’t treat the real source of the problem, the problem will never be solved. This is often the case nowadays. The American Psychiatric Association has increasingly viewed mental disorders as biological or genetic, ruling out parenting as a cause. To date, this includes schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, and delusional disorder. Alcoholics Anonymous considers alcoholism to be genetic. Gay rights people consider homosexuality genetic.

If we make everything genetic or biological, there is nothing to be done about depressed preteens. Just give them some drug to maintain them so their “biological condition” doesn’t do them in. Hence we avoid the real problem, faulty parenting and a culture that is in denial and at odds and unable to solve not only parenting problems but all the problems that are besetting us, such as global warming.

The trend of depressed teens and preteens has been increasing over the years and it appears it will continue to increase.

Why Are One of Three Preteens Suicidal?

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2019). Why Are One of Three Preteens Suicidal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Apr 2019
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