Child suicides reached record levels last year

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Number of child suicides. Source: Don Harder/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The quality of Estonian medicine is so good that fewer and fewer children die from natural causes every year. However, in terms of child suicide rates, Estonia is unfortunately still a world-leader. Last year, most other causes of child death decreased, but suicides set a dark record. Specialists do not associate the statistics singularly to the difficult year.

Since 2014, child deaths have been falling year-on-year. Last year, 53 children and young people, i.e. under the age of 18, passed away.

Twelve of these were still-births or died during childbirth. Ten children died from tumors. However, accidents, poisonings and traumas were the cause of death among 22 children and young people, with 10 of these being suicide cases.

World-class quality obstetric care

Fewer and fewer children nevertheless die every year, which is hailed as proof of the sound medical situation in Estonia.

Koit Meres, an analyst at Statistics Estonia, said that over the last ten years, Estonia's indicators in terms of infant deaths have been at the top of the world rankings. The indicators improved more than tenfold over a couple of decades.

"We are talking about the success story of our medicine. Not only infant deaths, but also the share of deaths at the birth of all births is the absolute lowest in Estonia from among the EU countries," Meres said.

At the top of the world in terms of suicides

However, the number of intrauterine deaths and deaths from infectious diseases and tumors increased slightly last year. However, mortality due to lung and nervous system diseases decreased.

Otherwise, the declining mortality of children is a sign of the well-being of medical care, but according to a recent WHO study, Estonia is unfortunately at the top of the world with New Zealand and Uzbekistan (per 100,000 inhabitants) in terms of child suicides. Year after year, the situation with the mental health of our children has worsened since the number of suicides has increased.

The average indicator of the 45 countries included in the study is 3.77 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, but Estonia was already at the top of the world in 2019, when the indicator was 6.7. Unfortunately, last year this figure rose even further.

There is no direct connection with the coronavirus year

Last year will be framed by the coronavirus pandemic in every area of ​​life. The special situation and the changes in society - the loss of social security, job losses, distance learning, home offices, fear and uncertainty about the future - affected all walks of life, all people in one way or another. Negative changes also increase people's risk behavior. Job loss can lead to higher alcohol consumption and that can lead to domestic violence.

Social anxiety also reached people operating in crisis aid, who receive calls from those in need.

"During and after last year's emergency, there was a pattern where women often called the crisis phone with suicidal thoughts when they were in an abusive relationship and men when they were abandoned by women. Loneliness, fear of violence was around us," Jako Salla, Head of the Victim Support and Prevention Services Department at the Social Insurance Board (Sotsiaalkindlustusamet), characterized the general picture.

"The rise started already at the end of last year," Salla said.

Anxiety in the family and in society affects young people the most because they are with very reactive behavior.

However, blaming the coronavirus for a record figure would be an oversimplification and would not give the right picture. Experts admit that it is not possible to say what caused the tragic record, because suicides are too complex phenomena to be associated with one cause only.

At the same time, a study commissioned by the government office last year shows that young people were most negatively affected by the corona restrictions, as they need communication the most.

Untreated and long-lasting depression is the main reason why teenagers commit suicide. However, the factors that trigger it are different.

"Suicide is a process. It is rarely possible to point out one and certain cause, it is often a combination of several factors, and in the case of young people there is also some impulsivity," Käthlin Mikiver, project manager of the Department of Public Health at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said.

Anne Kleinberg, the head of the mental health center of Tallinn Children's Hospital, said that young people have been in more and more trouble with themselves in recent years.

"The situation of young people has worsened, the coronavirus year has been the hardest for them. So, the coronavirus year was a little push to already troubled people, but associating it directly to the coronavirus would be fantasizing," Kleinberg said.

Child suicides as a mirror of society

One indicator that the mental health of young people is bad is the fact that the number of children who local governments have wanted to take away from their homes and send to a closed institution has increased significantly this year as well as last year, Salla said.

The workload of peaasi.ee, which provides psychological counseling to young people, has also increased - young people need help more than before and this is the most accessible help they know. The number of applications for Child Support has also increased.

Käthlin Mikiver from the Ministry of Social Affairs also believes that young people need to be taught how to deal with themselves mentally. "Sustainability must be achieved so that we can cope with difficult situations. In the case of young people, it is very important to have the skills to cope with difficult situations, to resolve relationship conflicts," he said. "The most important thing here is the family - supportive parenting; a positive parent-child relationship is very important."

Mikiver pointed out that if bad family relationships and parental problems have a detrimental effect on young people, the opposite is also true - good parental relationships are related to the lower level of depression in children, ie they provide a safety net for children.

"Every child should have one person, one adult, to whom he or she can turn at any time," Mikiver said.

Raivet emphasized that he must also develop as a society, he will not turn back before the statistics.

Unfortunately, this year's statistics are also quite in line with last year's pattern - according to preliminary data, four children have already died this year.

"If there are pain points in society, they are manifested first through children. Children are a mirror of society. If they are happy, they will pass on that feeling of happiness to the next generation. But they have not been taught to be happy and pass it on," Raivet said.

That is why Raivet called it important for parents to look in the mirror more: "As parents, we sometimes abuse them in vain, but for every life event, the child must know that he or she has a supportive parent next to him or her."

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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