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Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents

Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents

Age at first suicide attempt

Mazza and colleagues1 examined the age at onset of suicide attempts in youths. This longitudinal study included 883 youths who were assessed annually starting at approximately ages 6 to 18 years. Data were collected retrospectively regarding suicide attempts. When the youths were 18 to 19 years old, they were asked whether they had ever attempted suicide, the number of suicide attempts, the age of first suicide attempt, and whether they received medical treatment for their suicide attempt. Seventy-eight youths reported making a suicide attempt: 36% made their first suicide attempt during elementary or middle school. The youngest age of a suicide attempt was at 9 years.

Youths with multiple suicide attempts were more likely to have made their first attempt during elementary school or middle school compared with single attempters who had a later onset of suicide attempts. For those youths who attempted suicide, depressive symptoms were higher during the year that they made their first suicide attempt. The researchers stress the importance of including suicide prevention programs in elementary and middle schools, in addition to high school.

Suicide methods

Are the methods of suicide used by children and adolescents different from those of adults? Hepp and colleagues2 examined Swiss suicides from 1998-2007. During this 10-year period, there were 12,226 suicides: 333 of the suicides were in the child and adolescent age-group. Of these, 226 (68%) were in boys and 107 (32%) were in girls. For boys, the most common methods of suicide were use of firearms (26.1%), hanging (25.2%), railway suicide (20.8%), and jumping from heights (19.5%). Compared with suicides by adults, railway suicides and jump-ing from heights were significantly higher in the child and adolescent age-group.

Suicide by intoxication was significantly higher in the male adult group than the male child and adolescent group. Suicides by gas, by drowning, and by firearms were also more common in the adult male group than in the child and adolescent male group.

For girls, the most common methods of suicide were railway suicide (31.8%), jumping from heights (23.4%), hanging (18.7%), and intoxication (16.8%). Railway suicides were significantly more common in the female child and adolescent group than in the female adult group, whereas drowning was significantly higher in the female adult group than the female child and adolescent group.

The researchers concluded that availability is an important factor in the methods chosen by children and adolescents who commit suicide. In Switzerland, railways are readily accessible, as are bridges. Such “hot­spots” should be adequately monitored to prevent youth suicides.

Suicide risk factors

Risk factors for suicide in children and adolescents have been a strong research focus. Mood disorders are a significant risk factor for suicidal behavior in youths. Three multicenter treatment studies of adolescents with depression, the Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS), the Treatment of SSRI-Resistant Depression in Adolescents (TORDIA) study, and the Adolescent Depression Antidepressants and Psychotherapy Trial (ADAPT), provide clinically useful information about predictors of suicidal events in youths.


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