Around 40 suicides among children aged less than 12 are reported each year. In May, an 11-year-old boy hanged himself with his T-shirt in his school in Arles after he had been sent out of the classroom.
The author of the report, psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, believes that many deaths reported as accidental should also be considered as suicides. “The child who throws himself suddenly under the wheels of a car,” he said as an example in an interview with newspaper Aujourd’Hui.
“Those close to him attribute this as being off-guard or a failure to evaluate the danger properly, while the child knew very well what he was doing,” he said.
The author said many children do not really understand what death means when they attempt suicide.
“They don’t think they are going to die. They don’t have the same notion of death as an adult. What they’re looking for is for things to stop, for time so that things can be sorted out,” he said.
In the report, which will be presented to youth minister Jeannette Bougrab on Thursday, Cyrulnik will call for a multi-layered approach that takes into account the biological, psychological and social reasons for suicide.
Post-mortem studies have found that young suicide victims have less serotonin than those dying from other causes. Children born into environments where parents are themselves suffering depression or other problems could be susceptible to lower levels of serotonin.
Other factors playing a role are related to the child’s experiences, including abandonment (which plays a role in 31 percent of suicides), physical abuse (21 percent), sexual abuse (8 percent) and incest (5 percent).
Cyrulnik says that warning signs can be detected. “A good pupil who becomes bad, a girl surrounded by friends who shuts herself off in her bedroom, a happy child who becomes sad,” he told newspaper Libération.
Proposals in the report will include better training for those taking care of young people so they can spot the signs.
This is particularly important at school, said Cyrulnik, where suffering is “frequent.” 12 percent of children claim they are very unhappy at school with a further 18 percent saying they don’t enjoy it. The author calls for less “stigmatising marking” of work and dealing with bullying among children.