ROCKY HILL, Conn (WTNH) – “It was a different time, there was a lot of stress in the family,” said Steve MacHattie, speaking out to make a difference, detailing the struggles he’s had inside ever since he was a very young boy, experiencing trauma at home.
“Somewhere in there, I believe, I decided I wanted to die by suicide. I was 6 maybe 7 years old,” said this Manchester man.
MacHattie tried to smother himself.
He spoke to his mother but she didn’t take his actions or feelings seriously.
“For her, that conversation never came up again. For me, it was the beginning and it continued and sometimes still continues today,” he said.
While MacHattie’s story may have been unique years ago, it’s not today.
Children are having suicidal thoughts younger than ever before, as shown in data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for children starting at age 10. That’s a nationwide phenomenon but one we see in Connecticut, as well,” said Sarah Eagan, Connecticut’s Child Advocate.
In October 2020, Eagan’s office issued an alert after four youth suicides in one month.
She said the pandemic exacerbated existing problems: “We’ve been moving towards crisis for a long time now.”
“Every patient that comes to our emergency department that’s 10 years or older is asked the ASQ or Ask Suicide Questions screener and it’s a validated tool to identify patients at risk for suicide,” said Dr. Steven Rogers, Medical Director for Emergency Behavioral Health at Connecticut Children’s, referencing “universal screening” in the emergency room.
This now takes place when a child comes in for any medical issue – be it a mental health problem or a broken bone.
“In the first two years of our screening program, we screened well over 30,000 kids and about 17% of them were positive,” he explained.
“We have to start looking at those populations of kids who are at most risk for suicide, depression, and anxiety and those have tended to be, in the pandemic, black teen girls and transgender youth,” said Melissa Santos, the Division Head of Pediatric Psychology at Connecticut Children’s.
Traditionally, young white males have been most at risk but that landscape is changing.
“We think about the impact Covid has had on some of our kids. The number of kids who’ve lost their primary parent or caregiver to Covid death has been outstanding and it’s been significantly higher in our black population,” said Santos, noting this is a result of more responsibility at home and racial tensions in our country.
For many transgender youths, it was difficult to be stuck at home during the pandemic where they weren’t accepted or understood.
“A lot of organizations closed down. People’s support systems went away. Perhaps school was a safe place for you – you saw your school counselor – that all got lost in the pandemic,” said Santos.
“This is a moment of reckoning. And what are we going to do about it?” Eagan said.
Santos suggests not just talking about mental health in reaction to a bad event. Instead, discuss it often.
“I think that every place that a child goes, we talk about emotional health. When they go to the pediatrician, you talk about emotional health. When you go to the dentist, you talk about emotional health,” Santos said.
“Talk about what’s going on. Don’t be afraid,” added MacHattie, now a husband and father.
Over his life, he has had three serious attempts and even lost his brother to suicide.
He continues to see a therapist to this day and, believe it or not, became a therapist himself, working mainly with kids.
He finds freedom when he sings and is not afraid to say he’s a work in progress working hard, every day.
“I think everybody has something great and I would like for them to stick around and find out what that is,” he said with feeling.
Wednesday, we take a look at resources, where struggling families can turn for help here in Connecticut.
If you or someone you know are in need of help, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or click here.