Jamel Myles died by suicide Thursday
His mother said he recently came out as gay and was bullied at school
(CNN) — A 9-year-old boy in Colorado took his life days after starting the fourth grade last week. He had recently come out as gay to his mother, who believes that bullying was a factor in his death, she told HLN's Mike Galanos on Tuesday.
"The same kids who picked on him last year were even meaner to him once he came out and said he was gay," said Leia Pierce, Jamel Myles' mother. "They hurt my baby."
Denver Police said that Jamel's death appears to be a suicide.
Though suicides rates for those under 13 are far lower than for teens and adults, experts have looked closely at a rise in deaths in recent years -- and what makes suicide-related behavior different for young children.
"Impulsivity plays a big role in the suicidal behavior of young kids not thinking through actions," said John Ackerman, a clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Ackerman was not involved in evaluating Myles' case.
Ackerman said that for some young kids, it can be hard to process or put the brakes on heightened emotional responses. Whereas teens may go through a series of thoughts and stages before engaging in suicidal behavior, for young children, "an impulse towards suicide can escalate really quickly," he said.
From 1999 to 2016, 1,430 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are 121 such deaths on record for 2016, up from 102 the year before.
These data don't account for nonfatal suicide attempts, but other research has seen a rise in that, too: The percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts in the United States "almost doubled" between 2008 and 2015, according to a study published June in the journal Pediatrics. That study also found a seasonal pattern, with rates being lowest in the summer and highest in the spring and fall -- around the time when school is in session.
Not just a 'teenage problem'
"Many people, including medical professionals, think suicide is a teenage problem," Lisa Boesky, a private clinical psychologist and author who studies adolescent suicide, previously told CNN. "But suicide can happen at very young ages."
When looking for the warning signs for suicide in kids, "many people look for signs of depression," Boesky said. But that is more typical to teens, who tend to show mood swings and depression, she said.
A study in 2016 Found that kids under 12 who died by suicide were more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder than older kids. The authors say this could mean younger kids with mental health issues are more susceptible to impulsively responding to problems in their lives.
"That doesn't mean that most kids with ADHD are suicidal," said Ackerman, who was not involved in that study, but it does highlight the role impulsivity might play.
Although kids tend to understand the concept of death by the fifth grade, "they don't always understand the permanence of death in the same way," he added.
'Kids are struggling'
Experts say that bullying and suicide are closely related but caution against drawing too direct a link.
According to a CDC report, both bullies and their victims may sustain "serious and lasting negative effects" on their mental health, and they are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior. But bullying isn't necessarily a direct cause of suicide, the report says. Most kids affected by bullying don't engage in this behavior.
Asking for help
The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.
There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller's ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.