Think back to when you were five years old, or maybe when you had a five year old child. Memories often involve playground games, family, school friends and good times. It’s not that way for every child however. A new study on mental health in children suggests that even as young as five, children can be at risk for suicide. It’s a myth that children do not think of or commit suicide. While children as young a five do not always have the cognitive understanding on the permanence of death, they can and do think about suicide and many of them succeed. While it’s rare, it happens and the new research suggests better mental health care and screening even for very young children be more available to families.
The numbers break down as follows. For children between the ages of 5 and 11 the rate of death by suicide is 0.17 out of 100,000. The rate rises with age. In teens between 12-17 years of age, there are about 5.18 deaths by suicide. The study, led by Arielle Sheftall, a postdoctoral research fellow with The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, was a follow up to previous work she did that found an increase in suicide in young black children during the period 1993-2012, and a decrease in white children during the same time period.
Realizing that suicide seemed to be on the rise in younger children, the most recent study was done to find out the underlying causes. Approximately 4 out of 10 of the children aged 5-11 who died by suicide were African American children. In general, rates of suicide are lower among blacks than whites, so this result was surprising not only for the ages of the children, but for the breakdown by race.
The team led by Sheftall analyzed data from National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) surveillance data capturing suicide deaths from 2003 to 2012 for 17 US states. Participants included all suicide decedents aged 5 to 14 years from 17 different states, from 2003-2012. In the NVDRS suicide is defined as “a death resulting from the use of force against oneself when a collection of evidence indicates that the use of force was intentional.” In total 693 cases of suicide (87 children [aged 5–11 years] and 606 early adolescents [aged 12–14 years]) were analyzed in the study. While 87 is a low number, it also represents children at ages so young they don’t even fully understand death or the impact their actions have.
In a press release, Sheftall said, “Elementary school-aged children who died by suicide were more likely to experience relationship problems with their family members or friends, while early adolescents who died by suicide were more likely to experience boyfriend or girlfriend problems.” Underlying mental health was also a contributing factor. 1/3 of the children who died by suicide had an underlying mental health issue. In the older group, depression was most common at 66% and with the younger children, ADHD was seen in 60% of the cases.
The authors stress that children and their mental health needs must be looked at more closely. Even the youngest children can suffer from severe issues and health care providers need to know that while rare, it happens. The video below talks more about the study.
, Science World Report
, Journal Pediatrics
, Child Mind Institute