Monday, March 16, 2020

National Study of 9-,10-Year-Olds Reveals Up to 8% Have Suicidal Thoughts, Behaviors

About 8% of 9- and 10-year-olds in the United States who are participating in a national study reported that they have had suicidal thoughts and about 1% have attempted suicide, according to a study in Lancet Psychiatry. Children who are more impulsive or disruptive and/or those who reported greater family conflict were more likely to report suicidal thoughts and behaviors than those without these tendencies or family conflict.

“The findings reported here have immediate and practical implications as risk factors (childhood psychopathology, family conflict, and screen use), and protective influences (higher parental supervision and positive school engagement) are actionable and modifiable,” wrote Delfina Janiri, M.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and colleagues. “Increasing school and parental awareness of child psychopathology and providing parenting education and family support could be clear and attainable targets for early intervention and prevention strategies.”

Janiri and colleagues analyzed baseline data from the National Institutes of Health’s Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. (The study has enrolled 10,000 children aged 9 and 10 from across the United States and will follow them for a decade to study their brain development.) As part of the baseline ABCD assessments, children and their parents reported separately on the child’s current or past suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Complete data for both child and parental suicidality reports were available for 7,994 ABCD participants.

Overall, 673 (8.4%) children reported any past or current suicidal ideation, 107 (1.3%) reported past or current suicidal attempts, and 75 (0.9%) reported any past or current suicidal plans. According to caregivers, 650 (8.1%) children reported suicidal ideation, 39 (0.5%) reported suicidal attempts, and 46 (0.6%) reported suicidal plans. The agreement between children and parents was low, however; only 198 children who reported suicidal ideation were also identified as having these thoughts by their parents, for example. 

The researchers found that the presence of child psychopathology (disruptive or impulsive behaviors), child-parental conflicts, and elevated weekend screen time were all associated with an increased risk of child-reported suicidality (74%, 47%, and 37% increased risk, respectively). Conversely, higher levels of parental supervision and more positive school experiences appeared to reduce the risk of a child having current or past suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

“Too often, studies in the suicide prevention field have focused on risk factors and, as a result, it is often difficult to identify protective factors to target in psychosocial interventions. Therefore, it is rewarding that the focus of this study includes potential buffers, and it is valuable to see parental and positive school involvement emerge as robust factors associated with reduced suicide risk in children,” wrote Rory O’Connor, Ph.D., and Kathryn Robb, Ph.D., of the University of Glasgow in an accompanying editorial. They added that further work is needed to identify which aspects of parental involvement help reduce children’s suicidality risks.

To read more on this topic, see the Psychiatric News article “Preteen Suicides: Rare, Mysterious, and Devastating.” 

(Image: iStock/AndreyPopov)

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