University of Virginia researchers conducted a study based on cases reported to the National Poison Data System as “suspected suicides” that involved both attempted suicides and deaths by suicide. They found a 26 percent increase in suspected suicides among children ages 6 and 19 during the study period.
The over-the-counter painkillers ibuprofen and acetaminophen were the two most common substances used in the suspected pediatric attempted suicide cases, researchers found, adding that the self-poisoning attempts resulted in 276 deaths and 14,916 cases of “major effects,” which may include long-lasting symptoms such as disfigurement.
Suspected cases of suicide by self-poisoning reportedly rose from 75,248 in 2015 to 93,532 in 2020. Girls accounted for 77.9 percent of all cases during the timeframe.
All pediatric groups saw increases in suspected suicides, according to the study, but the largest jump occurred in children between the ages of 10 and 12 who saw an increase of more than 109 percent.
“We need to be vigilant for the warning signs associated with suicide risk in our children,” Christopher Holstege, chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“Our study is one of a number that demonstrates that we are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis in younger age groups,” he continued. “As a society, we must commit more resources to the mental health needs of our children.”
A government-backed task force in April recommended early screening for depression and anxiety. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said children should be screened for anxiety beginning at age 8, while children 12 and up should be evaluated for depression.
“To address the critical need for supporting the mental health of children and adolescents in primary care, the Task Force looked at the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression, and suicide risk,” task force member Martha Kubik, said in a statement at the time.
“Fortunately, we found that screening older children for anxiety and depression is effective in identifying these conditions so children and teens can be connected to the support they need.”