Monday, September 19, 2016

Study Highlights How Children at High Risk of Suicide May Differ From Adolescents

Although suicide in elementary school–age children (aged 5 to 11) is rare, little is known about the factors precipitating suicide in this age group. A study published today in Pediatrics suggests that children who died by suicide were more likely to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than early adolescents (aged 12 to 14) who died by suicide. 

“These findings raise questions about impulsive responding to psychosocial adversity in younger suicide decedents, and they suggest a need for both common and developmentally specific suicide prevention strategies during the elementary school–aged and early adolescent years,” Arielle Sheftall, Ph.D., of Ohio State University and colleagues wrote.

The researchers analyzed suicide data recorded in the National Violent Death Reporting System from 2003 to 2012 in 17 U.S. states and compared individual characteristics and precipitating circumstances of suicide in children aged 5 to 11 to those aged 12 to 14.

About one-third of the children and young adolescents were recorded in the system as having had a current mental health problem, but while depression—a well-known risk factor for suicide—was the most common diagnosis among adolescents (65.6%), young children who died by suicide were most likely to have ADD or ADHD (59.3%).

“Assuming the diagnoses are accurate, this result would suggest that suicide in young children may be more related to impulsive behavior, a hypothesis that warrants further research,” David Fassler, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, told Psychiatric News.

“[S]uch research could have important implications for suicide prevention efforts in childhood and potentially diminish the relevance of traditional strategies focused primarily on identifying and treating depression as a means of mitigating suicide risk,” the study authors wrote.

Other characteristics that were more common in younger children who died by suicide were being male, black, suicide by hanging/strangulation/suffocation, and having died at home.

Fassler noted that because suicide is relatively rare in young children, it can be a challenging population to study. “Despite significant methodological challenges, the study represents an important contribution to the literature on suicide in young children and adolescents,” he said.

For a related story on suicide, see the Psychiatric News article “U.S. Experiences Uptick In Rates of Suicide.”

(Image: iStock/Christopher Futcher)


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