There has been an increase in youth suicide in recent years, including suicides and suicidal ideation among gifted adolescents. Although there is no direct evidence linking suicide with the unique population of these children, many researchers in the mental health field are beginning to explore this connection and recognize that additional research is needed.
It is only recently that mental health professionals are becoming more aware of the unique psychological and emotional concerns of gifted children and teens compared to non-gifted children. Some of the specific impairments that a gifted teen might experience include:
- Difficulty with peer relationships
- Refusal to do routine, repetitive assignments
- Inappropriate criticism of others
- Lack of awareness regarding how their unique ability is affecting others
- Not feeling challenged at school
- Depression as a result of boredom
- Anxiety as a result of feeling different
- Difficulty receiving constructive criticism
- Hiding intellectual and creative abilities
- Resisting authority, nonconforming
- Excessive competitiveness
- Isolation from peers
- Frustration tolerance is very low
- Poor study habits
In addition to this list, research indicates the tendency for gifted teens to be more prone to depression, given their differences from other children. Gifted teens tend to experience feelings and thoughts more intensely, which might contribute to a vulnerability to depression. Furthermore, they can be more sensitive, tend to be perfectionists, and have high levels of energy. These traits might contribute feeling so different that they cannot socially or emotionally connect with others, leading to a sense of loneliness or isolation.
Research also indicates that teens who are gifted typically have the pattern of hiding their depression. Gifted adolescents are often very sensitive and can feel shame for not being able to identify the source of their feelings and for feeling like a failure socially and emotionally. During a depressive period, symptoms for gifted teens diagnosed with teen depression might experience emotional swings, unusual mental images, and spiraling thoughts.
Studies show that almost all adolescents who commit suicide suffer from depression. At the same time, the number of adolescents who attempt suicide is far higher than those who actually take their life. Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death of adolescents. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that there are as many as 25 attempts of suicide to every one that is actually committed. Male teens are four more times likely to die from suicide, whereas female adolescents are more likely to make suicide attempts. Although there are many reasons that might cause a suicide attempt, the most common is depression. Other causes include divorce of parents, domestic violence, lack of success or progress in school, feelings of unworthiness, death of a loved one, and others.
However, despite the growing recognition of this population of children and accompanying research, as of 2013, there is still no known rate of suicide among gifted children and adolescents. Tracy Cross, author of the book, Suicide Among Gifted Children and Adolescents: Understanding The Suicidal Mind, points out “this is due in part because of the lack of a consensus definition of a gifted population. Without knowing exactly who they are, we cannot be accurate in our estimates of prevalence rates.”
One working definition of the gifted child comes from Susan K. Johnsen in her book Identifying Gifted Children: A Practice Guide:
Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.
One correlation recently made is that those gifted teens who are at-risk for suicidal ideation typically have introverted tendencies. As the research in this field continues, the appropriate levels of support and treatment methods will be available to properly treated depressed and suicidal gifted teens.
Cross, T. (2013). Suicide among gifted children and adolescents: Understanding the suicidal mind. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Hyatt, L. A. & T.L. Cross. “Understanding Suicidal Behavior of Gifted Students: Theory, Factors, and Cultural Expectations” International Handbook on Giftedness. Springer Science and Business Media, 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Johnsen, S.K. (2003). Identifying gifted children: A practice guide: Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
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