Suicide and Gifted Children


suicideA few years ago in my small community in Northwest Ohio, had a rash of suicides by teenagers. In the span of about 3 years we had half a dozen teens take their own lives, and it brought our community together.

Being a gifted advocate, I began to wonder what I could do to educate myself on the topic of teen suicide, and suicide prevention. I grabbed a copy of Tracy Cross’ book Suicide Among Gifted Children and Adolescents. Dr. Cross has done extensive research on suicide among gifted children and suicide prevention.

I am not an expert on the topic of suicide, but I wanted to be informed. So I am giving a short synopsis of what I learned from his book.

Suicidal behavior has four behaviors:

  • Ideation: thinking about suicide
  • Gestures: behaviors that are not meant to actually kill the person, but appear like they might
  • Attempts: efforts to die that fail
  • Completions: killing oneself intentionally

Dr. Cross mentions 10 risk factors for adolescent suicide. These factors are:

  1. Psychiatric disorders
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Cognitive and personality factors
  4. Aggressive-impulsive behaviors
  5. Sexual orientation
  6. Friend or family member of someone with suicidal behaviors
  7. Parental psychopathology
  8. Stressful life circumstances
  9. Glamorization of suicide through media coverage
  10. Access to lethal methods

Some characteristics of gifted adolescents are associated with an increased risk of suicide includes “unusual sensitivity and perfectionism; isolationism related to extreme introversion; some overexcitabilities as identified by Dabrowski. Jim Delisle has researched four different issues that make adolescents susceptible to suicide attempts: perfectionism, societal expectations to achieve, differential development of intellectual and social skills, and impotence to effect real-world change.”    

There are many different theories and theorists that are mentioned in Dr. Cross’ book. I would suggest to read, and to educate yourself on those if you are further interested. A few theorists that are mentioned are Durkheim, Gould, Greenberg, Venting, Shaffer, and Shneidman. I am in no way an expert, I am still learning and educating myself.

After knowing some characteristics to look for, I think we need to turn and look to prevention. What can schools do to help with prevention? Dr. Cross mentions some suggestions that we can as teachers can stakeholders can implement.

Some of these suggestions include:

  • Schools need to create an overt plan that includes a steering committee representing all stakeholders;
  • Create a suicide prevention plan that would be a significant part of an overarching plan to create a caring community;
  • Training stakeholders and teachers, and administrators should be thoroughly trained in suicide awareness and prevention. Depending on the understanding standing of gifted children will determine the sophistication of the training;
  • Training teaching staff and administration about the realities of suicide and incorporating the training into a curriculum of mental health students can partake in starting in upper middle school and high school;
  • Include students in organizing and steering a committee that will help to create a safe school environment.

As a collective group: staff, administration, parents, and community stakeholders we need educate our gifted children and our non-gifted children out the prevention strategies that they can partake in. Having this collective group also know about the characteristics of gifted children, and some of their proclivities can help create an understanding that can create an environment of understanding and caring.

What can we as stakeholders do to help create an environment of caring, understanding, and suicide prevention?  

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