5 facts about child suicides in America

October 13, 2016

Youth suicide is a major public health concern in the United States, and a leading cause of death for children 5 to 11. Here are five facts you should know about children and suicide:

1. Suicide in elementary school–aged children (age 5-11) is rare (a rate of 0.17 per 100,000 persons) compared to the rates for children and teens age 12-17 (5.1 per 100,000). Nevertheless, in 2014 suicide was still ranked as the 10th leading cause of death for elementary school–aged children in the United States.

2. Although the suicide rates for white adolescents and young adults is higher than for black adolescents and young adults, the suicide rate in elementary school–aged black children is higher than in white children. A recent study also found that 36.8 percent of elementary school–aged children who committed suicide were black compared with 11.6 percent of early adolescent suicide victims.

3. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics (September 2016) found that approximately one-third of all elementary school–aged suicide victims had a mental health problem at the time of their death. Among those with a mental health problem, a diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder/attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) was more common in children who died by suicide compared with early adolescents who died by suicide (59.3 percent versus 29.0 percent), whereas depression/dysthymia was more common among early adolescents who died by suicide compared with children who died by suicide (65.6 percent versus 33.3 percent).

4. The vast majority of child suicides are male (85 percent) and take their life at home (84 percent). The most common method of suicide is by hanging/strangulation/suffocation (80.5 percent), while firearms account for 13.8 percent and poisoning 3 percent. Less than 1 in 3 (29.5 percent) children disclosed an intent to commit suicide and only about 8 percent leave a suicide note.

5. The most common circumstance that lead to the suicide was a relationship problem (47 percent) Children who died by suicide were more likely to have relationship problems with family members and friends, whereas boyfriend/girlfriend problems were the most common factor for early adolescents who died by suicide. School problems accounted for 25 percent while recent crisis accounted for 30 percent. The study also found that rates of alcohol or substance abuse problems and the presence of alcohol or illicit drugs at the time of death were generally low. However, 3.9 percent of children and 7.5 percent of early adolescents, who died by suicide tested positive for opiates, rates higher than alcohol and other substances.

If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More