Yes, a child can suffer from depression. Quiet and shy children can suffer the most deeply but are often overlooked. I know because I was that child. Looking back, I can see my depression truly started when I was five years old after two terrible traumas.
My pain worsened as I grew older and dealt with more traumas and my mum’s mental illness. I spent ten years struggling with an overwhelming sadness, fear and pain I couldn’t understand.
The recollections of a child’s suffering can be so vivid and clear, as if they happened yesterday. One of my most frightening memories is of my second suicide attempt, an attempt that almost succeeded.
I was nine years old and I wanted to die. An intense pain was eating me alive; devouring everything good about a quiet, shy, sweet little girl but no one saw my misery. No one saw me.
My timid nature and shy, fearful heart were like a cloak of invisibility; concealing a secret suffering I was too young to comprehend but I knew death would end the struggle with myself and my terrible thoughts.
As I sat on the quicksand in my lonely playroom, sinking deeper into a storming gulf of despair, my mind jumbled and confused, not understanding what was wrong with me or why pain filled every part of me, I cried a river of tears and thought, ‘Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I be like the other kids?’ They seemed so happy and free like butterflies emerging from their primal cocoons, flying to a symphony of emotions I could only see.
Then I looked at my future of torment and suffering and knew the only way out. I had to die, to end the wretched cruelty of the plague that was forcing my hand but what would work?
I remembered the first time I tried to kill myself at eight years old but I didn’t know how to finish my plan. There had to be a better way. Then a strategy formed in my hopeless little mind. I knew what to do and how to achieve the emptiness and peace I so desperately craved.
I tiptoed quietly to my parent’s bedroom, trying hard not to be noticed. Anxiety filled my heart as fear threatened to steal my resolve but I was determined to accept my fate.
My mind ran through night’s spillway as thoughts raced to an endless vale deeper than life’s core. I scanned the long, dim hallway of a little girl’s sorrow making sure no one was around. Then my feet flew over death’s threshold into my parent’s room searching for an end to everything.
My mouth was dry as a barren desert parched by a scorching sun, my stomach twisted and turned like a tempest in a furious storm.
I rushed to my parent’s closet as my heart quaked and body flinched at every sound, thinking I’d been caught. I had to hurry.
A fever consumed me as I checked every box, every corner. ‘Where is it? I can’t find it but I know it’s here. Yes’. There it was. I found my way out. It seemed like an ordinary plastic bag, completely harmless but I knew what it could do.
Mum said to never put a plastic bag on my head because it would kill me but that’s what I wanted, to die, to escape the misery I had lived with all my short life.
I hid my salvation under the yellow ‘Boys Stink’ t-shirt I was wearing, then ran through the house and sprinted up the stairs. The steps seemed longer and steeper than normal; like a vast mountain I had to climb to reach my serenity, to reach my peace.
I clambered my way back into the playroom; the birthplace of my greatest shame and greatest torment. I shut the door behind me as my heart pounded and hands trembled from the anticipation of impending mortality.
A terrible dread of the unknown hung over me as I opened the bag, ‘What will it feel like? Will it hurt?’ I wanted to die, to stop feeling; but I couldn’t control the fear that always blazed inside of me.
My heart beat faster, speeding like a motor and screaming life’s grief. My breathing became shallow as cold, clammy sweat dripped from my forehead. My face was flushed from the heat of fear but the freezing chill of death made me shiver.
My whole body began to shake as I thrust the bag over my head. Death seized me like a snake constricting my breath. Shock surged through me as the plastic started clinging to my face; a ferocious monster consuming me, suffocating me.
I couldn’t breathe. I was trying, struggling but I couldn’t breathe. Terror and panic ripped through me like a raging torrent, dragging me under. I was thrashing and staggering, drowning in the depths of a hellish sea, battling to live a life I hated; trapped by the rushing waves, trapped by a mind too horrified to die.
My heart raced, my body quivered and almost convulsed as I started clawing at the bag, trying to force it open. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. There was no air.
I felt myself collapsing from the weight of destruction as my clawing became more desperate and frantic. Death’s hammer shrieked in my head as I took what last bit of strength I had left and yanked with all my might and heart, finally ripping the bag open.
I fell to the floor still gasping, still shaking. Then I started crying. I was so angry at myself. I was a coward, a chicken too weak to die.
Death was not peaceful. Death was not serene. It was violent and cruel; a brutal beast, tearing a child apart.
A fierce battle erupted inside of me. I wanted to die, to end my suffering but the ruthless nature of death cheated me of my plan. I cried harder as I realised how difficult it would be to kill myself and how long I was going to have to suffer. I begged god to strike me dead where I sat but he didn’t.
I had to continue living the hell that was my life, the hell of a pain I couldn’t stand but pain was all that was left. I couldn’t escape. I wanted death to ease my torment but how does a child break free from her terror?
Childhood suicide is a harsh reminder that even a young child can suffer from depression. If you see a child who cries often, who withdraws from other children and struggles to make friends, have them assessed or recommend assessment by a therapist or counsellor. An assessment can’t hurt but it may help save a child from years of suffering.
Hope Kay earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kentucky in 2004 and earned her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Morehead State University in 2008. She has worked with adolescents and young adults. Hope began suffering from depression and anxiety when she was five years old but was not diagnosed until she was fifteen. She strives to bring children’s mental health to the forefront of children’s health and believes early intervention is key for a child’s success and happiness in school and life.