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How Common is Child Suicide?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Child suicide rates vary by nation and specific age range, but it is generally among the top 10 causes of death in children, with males generally being more successful at suicide attempts than females. Risk factors, such as a history of mental illness, a stressful family situation, or bullying, can dramatically increase the chances of child suicide. A number of public health campaigns concerned with childhood mental health have explored child suicide and worked on developing appropriate intervention and prevention strategies.

Statistics from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry state that among people between the ages of five and 14, suicide is the sixth leading cause of death. For people between 15 and 24, it is the third leading cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control and National Institute of Mental Health note that one per 100,000 people between the ages of 10-14 dies of suicide, and 6.9 per 100,000 between the ages of 15 and 19 commit suicide. The World Health Organization, using global statistics, estimates that the rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is slightly higher, around 7.4 per 100,000.

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Researchers focusing on child suicide noted an increase in attempted suicide rates among males in the 2000s, and a number of theories have been developed to explain this, ranging from rising global stress levels to increased use of antidepressant medication, a known risk for suicide. Children of all ages who develop symptoms like personality changes, withdrawal, or clear suicidal ideation, such as an expressed desire to die, should be evaluated by a mental health professional so appropriate treatments can be provided.

Some psychiatric disorders onset in childhood and increase the risk of suicide, making it important to evaluate and treat children who appear to have psychiatric symptoms. These children can be provided with medications, as well as therapy. In children who are at risk of suicide because of environmental factors like bullying and stress, efforts to change the environment are recommended. Aggressive zero tolerance policies for bullying in school districts with suicidal students can be beneficial, as can the implementation of buddy systems and the provision of information about suicide hotlines.

Prompt intervention can reduce the risks of a child suicide attempt, as can steps like limiting access to tools for suicide. In households where weapons and potentially dangerous medications are kept, these should be stored in a secure environment. Guns, commonly used by boys, should be stored separate from their ammunition and kept in a locked gun safe.

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