Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What's the youngest recorded age of a person committing a voluntary suicide?
September 15, 2005 2:09 PM   Subscribe

TroubleGooglingFilter: What's the youngest recorded age of a person committing a *voluntary* suicide?
posted by agregoli to Grab Bag (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Man. Kind of a loaded question.

What is "voluntary" vs. "involuntary" suicide? Is suicide ever voluntary? Or ever involuntary?
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2005


Sigh. I think you can get what I mean. Someone who wasn't killed by being convinced by cult mom to drink the Kool-Aid. Someone who committed the act on their own, as far as anyone can tell.
posted by agregoli at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2005


Ummm, yes, suicide can be voluntary. It's defined as the act of intentionally killing oneself.

Googling for youngest recorded suicide gives some interesting results, one (PDF) claiming "The youngest recorded death from. suicide was 11 years old" and one claiming "The youngest recorded suicide in SA is 10." (South Africa)
posted by agropyron at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2005


Awhile back, I did a report on youth suicide and one of the sources mentioned that children as young as two had tried to commit suicide (by not voiding their bowels/bladder). IIRC, it was an article on childhood depression.

I'll dig around and try to find the article.
posted by luneray at 2:19 PM on September 15, 2005


Actually I most assuredly did NOT get what you meant. I thought you were making the distinction between depression or other mental illness related suicides, and suicide due to, say, a dishonor. But anyway, I don't know the answer to either question. So I'll get out of the way.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:19 PM on September 15, 2005


I find it somewhat difficult to believe that a two-year-old child could conceive of the notion of ending his/her own life, much less by not voiding their bowels.
posted by agropyron at 2:21 PM on September 15, 2005


I do too - how would they know that would possibly kill them?
posted by agregoli at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2005


And what two year old child has that sort of control? I mean, even as a grown man: when it gets down to the wire, it gets down to the wire.
posted by rafter at 2:25 PM on September 15, 2005


I do too - how would they know that would possibly kill them?

I didn't even know that could kill you. And I'm.... old.
posted by spilon at 2:44 PM on September 15, 2005


If you're too young to understand it, you're too young to seek it. I don't think a child can decide to commit suicide anymore than a child can decide to get married or have sex or whatever else we think only adults can really decide. A small boy might take his father's gun and kill himself, but you couldn't call it suicide unless the kid understood what it means to die.
posted by pracowity at 2:47 PM on September 15, 2005


Yeah, you should look into the child development angle here: a child surely can't decide to commit suicide until it has a sense of self. I'm a bit fuzzy on the theories, but I think there are various ages when self is supposed to develop.
posted by reklaw at 2:51 PM on September 15, 2005


Within the past few years, a 10 - 12 year old girl in the Pacific Northwest killed herself. I can't remember how, or if she was in Portland, Seattle, or elsewhere, but it stood out because the media mentioned it and then stated that they usually don't report on suicides, but that this was a very unusual circumstance. I can't remember any other details.
posted by peep at 2:52 PM on September 15, 2005


According to this:

A Child-Suicide in Foster Care, the youngest child suicide in LA County history was a 9-year old.

This: Child Suicide Over Ball talks about an 8-year who killed himself.


8-year old commits suicide after being released from Foster Care
. Just as it sounds.

This: Steep Rise in Child Suicide Attempts talks about 6-year old callers to a suicide prevention hotline, so apparently some children as young as 6 are at least thinking about it.


I guess the youngest reliable age for a suicide is about 8, based on news I can find online. The fact that there are 8-year olds who believe they have nothing to live for is an awful thought.
posted by sapienza at 2:53 PM on September 15, 2005


rafter writes "And what two year old child has that sort of control? I mean, even as a grown man: when it gets down to the wire, it gets down to the wire."

I certainly don't think that it's meant to be a form of suicide, but it's actually quite common for kids who are depressed or anxious to not void their bowels. At a certain point their bowels become impacted and then they can't go if they want to go. I remember working with a 8 year old on an inpatient psych unit once who was there because he hadn't shat in like 3 weeks.
posted by OmieWise at 3:08 PM on September 15, 2005


sapienza : "The fact that there are 8-year olds who believe they have nothing to live for is an awful thought."

Not to bring up a depressing angle, but there are, what, 1.5+ billion people living on less than a dollar a day. I wouldn't be surprised at all, if there are even younger kids staying in 3rd world slums or in resource-scarce environments, who commit suicide. See Salaam Bombay!.
posted by Gyan at 3:47 PM on September 15, 2005


There was a child who committed suicide in northern Michigan in 2001. I don't remember the exact age, but it was strikingly young - between 6 and 8 years old. It happened within a couple of weeks of the suicide of one of the child's male relatives, either uncle or father. I'm sorry I've gotten foggy on the details. I just tried to google it but I couldn't find it. The city may have been Barton City, but I'm not even sure of that.
posted by leapingsheep at 4:02 PM on September 15, 2005


There was a story about a young girl, aged 7 or 8, in Nevada, I think, who killed herself so that the cost of the medication she needed wouldn't be a burden on her already-poor family - this happened around 1850 or so - which I remember from a history class. Her journal and suicide letter were very moving. She didn't seem depressed so much as rational and pragmatic.
posted by luriete at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2005


Luriete, that sounds very much like the suicide of Danny Holley. This thread is bumming me out.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:10 PM on September 15, 2005


I remember having the same question about how a two year old can have enough of a sense of self to commit suicide. But I think the focus of the article was a bit different and that "suicide" was defined a bit more broadly. Essentially, depressed children were willfully causing harm to themselves, and these actions could result in death. Perhaps this is a type of involuntary suicide?

As I understand it, toxins build up in the body if they aren't eliminated. I don't know if death is through blood poisoning because the kidneys cease to function, or if the bowel ruptures. IANAD.

My father in law (a neonatal pediatrician) told me of one of his patients who was born (at home) without a fully formed anus. (This is not such an uncommon occurance apparently). It's correctable with surgery but has to be done soon after birth. The child's parents didn't bring him into the hospital until a few days after the child's birth, but by that time it was too late. (This happened in Bolivia, where the vast majority of births occur at home, and many people don't seek medical treatment in hospitals.)
posted by luneray at 4:30 PM on September 15, 2005


Actually, a rational decision to commit suicide can predicate just as easily - I think - on the understanding of other people's lives as equal in worth to our own. The simple equation of many > self does not require an exceptionally well-developed understanding of ones own self as opposed to those around us - or does it?

With the exception of cases of chemical depression (although I will disagree with the commonly held understandings of depression and suggest that depression is in many cases a perfectly natural and rational response to external situations), I think suicide is often a very rational and selfless act, and not the horrible selfish thing that so many people define it as. As horrible as it may seem for those left behind, children are also capable - maybe even more capable - of seeing the simplicity of this.
posted by luriete at 4:34 PM on September 15, 2005


This report from the Surgeon General has some stats on suicide in children, but nothing younger than age 10.
posted by luneray at 4:47 PM on September 15, 2005


Anecdotally, there was a case in the Albany area about 20 years ago where a 6 year old boy drank a bottle of dry gas. The reports made sure to mention that he had told people that he did not want to live in the days leading up to the incident, but no one took him seriously (?!).
posted by oflinkey at 5:16 PM on September 15, 2005


Albany, NY that is.
posted by oflinkey at 5:17 PM on September 15, 2005


Not to bring up a depressing angle, but there are, what, 1.5+ billion people living on less than a dollar a day.

Some, myself included, consider it all relative. I've been to these places and, frankly, they tend to be a helluva lot happier than most Americans I know are.
posted by jmd82 at 6:09 PM on September 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


I remember this incident from when it was reported in NY Times; an 8 year-old with a bad report card shot himself while his mother went to get a switch to whup him. The NYT article was far briefer; the linked article has more details which make the story clearer but no less horrible. I clipped the article and kept it in my floppy disk carrier, until I stopped carrying floppies.
posted by xueexueg at 8:06 PM on September 15, 2005


There used to be a Kids' Help Phone ad (an ad soliciting donations for Kids' Help Phone) that said something like: "'How do you do suicide?' - Four Year Old Caller"
posted by duck at 8:29 PM on September 15, 2005


Duck - I remember that add as well. And I certainly know at 12 I contemplated suicide (and thankfully sought the help of that very same Kids Help Phone - thank god for them.
posted by aclevername at 9:13 PM on September 15, 2005


Actually, a month before my 8th birthday I tried to kill myself by walking in front of a car. I damn near succeeded, I got banged up so bad I was in the hospital for a couple months. That time it was driven by a slightly intoxicated young guy (high school? college?) who didn't hit the brakes and swerve fast enough. (Our parents and their respective lawyers brought him to visit me in the hospital; I pissed off my parents, who were suing, by telling him when he cried that I did it on purpose and he shouldn't blame himself -- and I knew what I was saying then too.)

I certainly knew what "die" and "death" meant, and I had motive: I'd been suspended again from 3rd grade for "fighting" (as the class weirdo if I got beat up by five slightly bigger boys it had to be my fault), I knew I'd get whapped around with a belt and forbidden all kinds of things as soon as my father found out, and I was damn tired of having to go through all that again and again. Besides knowing what "die" meant, having seen animals die and hearing about dead relatives, I began to question the existence of God to quiet my fear of Hell (I'd figured out the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, my mother's Angelic Informer and Santa Claus were made up crap, so God was logically next anyway). So anybody who tells me a 7 or 8 year old can't "knowlingly" commit suicide is either a liar or an idiot: I could read a little better than most kids my age but I realize now I wasn't THAT "superior".
posted by davy at 9:26 PM on September 15, 2005


luriete, Hardy was aware of such things: "Done because we are too menny."
posted by davy at 9:33 PM on September 15, 2005


Davy: Your story about "fighting" is painfully familiar. In my case, it was because I was the biggest, and weird. I certainly can say I contemplated suicide from around age 8, for similar reasons.
posted by Goofyy at 10:25 PM on September 15, 2005


Me three! I remember spending time fantasizing about it and planning it in great detail from about age 7 forward. I'm not sure if it was the same kind of thing that adult suicides think about or not - I kind of think it was a way of theorizing about death, as well as addressing the pain of life. At any rate, I was as serious about it as I was about anything at that age, and I suppose my spititual orientation formed at that time too.
posted by mwhybark at 11:07 PM on September 15, 2005


A friend of mine told me she considered suicide at the age of five due to a horrendous abusive stepmother. She had been told that the leaves and berries of the poinsettia plan they had in the house were poisonous, she she decided to eat some of them to end her life. She didn't go through with it though, thank God.
posted by hazyjane at 11:30 PM on September 15, 2005


I attempted suicide at the age of nine with a paracetamol overdose. Needless to say I failed, because I didn't know enough about doses. I had thought that "all of the pills in the medicine cabinet" would have been enough, but I was wrong. I made myself pretty sick for a couple of days though. I knew what I was doing at the time, and it was intentional.
posted by talitha_kumi at 1:48 AM on September 16, 2005


davy: ...but I realize now I wasn't THAT "superior".

Unlike now, I guess.

You don't have to be a liar or an idiot to wonder whether a little kid really understands what suicide is and understands how bad his or her situation really is (or isn't) compared to dying.

If a two-year-old grabs a pistol and shoots his head off because he can't have what he wants and because that's what he saw someone on TV do, he is killing himself, but does he know what it means? Does he know enough to make the right decision? Does he have the perspective to know what non-existence is and that non-existence is the best solution to the situation he's in?

If you admit that there's a limit to how young someone can be and still understand death and non-existence in relation to life in the world, the original question -- What's the youngest recorded age of a person committing a *voluntary* suicide? -- has to be reconsidered: you have to decide whether it could ever make sense to say a toddler committed suicide.
posted by pracowity at 4:26 AM on September 16, 2005


About 1.5 years ago there was a little article in Harper's that reprinted snippets of the suicide notes of Japanese children. I think I remember the youngest being 9. I believe these came from a book, so in that respect it's more or less verifiable/citable. The notes were very well written and they obviously remove any doubt of accident, etc.

I'm sorry I can't give you more information about the exact date of the Harper's article. (note that it wasn't one of the main features, but one of those miniature articles in the front).
posted by miniape at 5:50 AM on September 16, 2005


Actually, it's reprinted right here http://www.suicidereferencelibrary.com/test4~id~1157.php
posted by miniape at 5:53 AM on September 16, 2005


I was told by a psychiatrist that there are recorded instances of suicide in children as young as 5. My son was suicidal at age 7. His understanding of ending his entire life may have been narrow, but he had clear suicidal ideation. He's 18 now.

The most powerful thing I have ever read about suicide is Art Kleiner's article.
posted by theora55 at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2005


Gyam: Kids from slums and poor areas are usually happier than from rich areas. Depression is more of a sickness of the rich man.
posted by markesh at 7:23 AM on September 16, 2005


Fantastic answers! I feel I have even more to ponder and think about now, and so many articles to read. Thanks!
posted by agregoli at 8:49 AM on September 16, 2005


There's a good book about childhood and adolescent depression that includes mention of young children who commit suicide. It's called Help Me, I'm Sad by David Fassler.
posted by MsMolly at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2005


Something else I was just wondering: if you are old enough to commit suicide (in the full sense of the term, with full understanding of what you're doing), then you are old enough to commit murder, to understand what you are doing, and to be tried as an adult, right?
posted by pracowity at 1:45 PM on September 16, 2005


Something else I was just wondering: if you are old enough to commit suicide (in the full sense of the term, with full understanding of what you're doing), then you are old enough to commit murder, to understand what you are doing, and to be tried as an adult, right?

That's a pretty big presumption.
posted by angry modem at 2:26 AM on September 17, 2005


I presume that knowing what it means to kill any human is to know what it means to kill oneself, and vice versa, because we are all equally human. Doesn't that seem reasonable?

So if at seven years old you are old (mature, wise, experienced, etc.) enough to know what killing yourself means (as some in this thread have asserted), you're equally capable at seven years old of understanding what it means to kill someone else and – I think this is a fair extension of that assertion – if you are fully aware of what you're doing, you should be held fully responsible for your actions. To claim that a seven-year-old is capable of suicide is to claim that a seven-year-old is capable of murder.

Turn that around and you get this: to reject the idea that children can be responsible for murder is to reject the idea that they can be responsible for suicide. In this thread, you would be saying that davy, for example, did not attempt suicide as claimed because a kid that young just can't commit suicide – he was not mature enough to know what he was doing.

My point, with regard to the question posed in this thread, is that such a determination would force us to say that certain self-inflicted deaths cannot really be thought of as suicide because the killers were too young, and that maybe it makes no sense to talk about suicide below a certain age, just as you cannot talk about three-year-old murderers (not in the same sense as you can talk about forty-year-old murderers).
posted by pracowity at 5:20 AM on September 17, 2005


pracowity : "So if at seven years old you are old (mature, wise, experienced, etc.) enough to know what killing yourself means (as some in this thread have asserted), you're equally capable at seven years old of understanding what it means to kill someone else"

The import of "know" varies. The 7 year old may understand that death results in absence of life-like behaviour and eventual disappearance, but not grasp the full emotional, personal and social consequences of murder.
posted by Gyan at 10:11 AM on September 17, 2005


Gyan, I don't agree with that. If the kid can't understand the full emotional, personal and social consequences of murder, the kid can't grasp the full emotional, personal and social consequences of suicide. The two acts are quite similar and equally difficult to grasp.
posted by pracowity at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2005


pracowity : "If the kid can't understand the full emotional, personal and social consequences of murder, the kid can't grasp the full emotional, personal and social consequences of suicide."

Agreed. But you don't need to understand the whole shebang to contemplate suicide. Just have to have enough of an idea.
posted by Gyan at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2005


Then too pracowity, one is the owner of one's self so suicide is not murder.
posted by davy at 2:34 PM on September 17, 2005


> so suicide is not murder.

No, of course they are different things in that the gun is pointed the other way, but the effect is the elimination of a human life. If you can understand one, you can understand both. If you cannot understand one, you cannot understand the other.

I think Gyan agrees and is saying that you cannot, at seven, quite understand either, but that you can go through the physical act for both.
posted by pracowity at 12:35 AM on September 18, 2005


A recent news account of an 11 year-old's suicide.
posted by PY at 7:38 AM on October 12, 2005


« Older I have a standard cable televi...   |  What are good FREE websites/so... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.