CHESHIRE – A state panel could recommend depression and suicide screening based on reviews of seven child suicides last year, including one of an 11-year old Cheshire girl.
Anjelita Estrada, a Doolittle Elementary School pupil, died in December. The state Chief Medical Examiner 's Office ruled her death a suicide.
The Child Fatality Review Panel met this week to review details of her case and six other children who killed themselves last year.
Faith Vos Winkel, assistant child advocate, said the panel hopes to make recommendations that could help children at high risk of suicide. The causes in each case are complicated and it’s difficult to identify any one reason that fully explains the death, she added.
“Not every kid had mental health in their background,” she said. “You might have a kid who is questioning in terms of their sexuality, you might have a kid who had mental health and is in extensive treatment … Sometimes you see bullying. But is bullying itself the tipping point? Maybe it is, but often there is other things going on in their lives.”
In a police report on Estrada’s death, family members said the girl was bullied at school. The report also described family conflict and a recent move from out of state.
Vos Winkel said Dallas, Texas, has had good results with requiring pediatric screens for depression and suicidal thoughts. That may be a recommendation by the panel after further review of last year’s suicides.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report last June stated that the suicide rate is up nearly 20 percent nationally across all age groups. Kimberly Nelson, a Wheeler Clinic senior vice president who has taught on suicide prevention, said girls and young women ages 10 to 19 have seen a particularly dramatic increase, with the suicide rate doubling over the last 15 years.
Vos Winkel hopes that screening efforts can also dispel the idea that talking about suicide plants the idea in children’s heads.
“It’s not true,” she said. Mental health experts recommend that if anyone suspects someone is considering suicide, they should ask that person openly and directly.
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire and co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Children’s Committee, is pushing a bill partially in response to Estrada’s death.
The legislation, passed by the committee, would expand the state’s definition of bullying. State law currently requires that the behavior be persistent and repeated, but the proposed legislation would allow isolated incidents to qualify as bullying. The law would also provide social and emotional learning free of charge to school districts.
Linehan supported the idea of mental health screening for children and said a statewide panel on social-emotional learning, should the legislature create one, could consider recommendations.
“I’m looking to weave it in” to the bill, Linehan said.
She’s working with a local family whose daughter wrote an essay about her struggle with depression. Linehan said the girl could become an ambassador to other children for mental health.
Anyone who wants immediate help or help for someone else, including access to an emergency mobile services unit, can call 2-1-1 They can also reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-275-8255, or by text at 741741. Texting words such as “help,” “talk,” “listen,” or “CT” to the hotline will get responses