The JAMA Network new research study, Characteristics and Precipitating Circumstances of Suicide Among Children Aged 5 to 11 Years in the United States, 2013-2017, examined the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), revealing that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 11 years. Childhood suicide risk factors included mental health, prior suicidal behavior, trauma, and peer, school, or family-related problems.
Demographic data included 134 child decedents, of which 75% were males, and 59 percent were White individuals, with an average age of 10.6. The majority of the suicides occurred in the child’s home and specifically in the child’s bedroom. The methods of suicide used were majority by hanging or suffocation (78.4%) followed by firearms (18.7%). In all firearms deaths, the gun was stored unsafely in the child’s home. School or peer-related problems were present in more than one-third of the victim’s cases. The childhood suicide findings suggest that a progression toward suicide behavior accumulated over time and that an argument between the child victim and a family member or disciplinary action was often the precipitating circumstance of the suicide.
The findings from the investigation of the characteristics and precipitating circumstances of suicide among children aged 5 to 11 years in the US revealed four themes, including:
- Mental health and suicide-related concerns.
- Family-related problems.
- School or peer-related problems.
The day of the suicide revealed that 32 percent of the child victims were disciplined at school, and an argument occurred in the home followed by disciplinary action. With most of the child victims being at home at the time of the suicide, findings indicated that an adult in 58.4 percent of cases was also present in the home. Suspected or confirmed child abuse and neglect were associated in 27.1 percent of the cases, and 40.6 percent experienced multiple traumatic events. Domestic violence, parental substance abuse, family history of psychological problems, or suicide were documented in approximately 40 percent of the child victim’s cases. 1 in 4 of the child victims has a history of trauma.
Thirty percent of the child victims had an identified mental health concerns, and 78 percent were receiving mental health treatment for behavioral and/or mood disorders. The child victims often had a history of suicidal ideation or attempts, and some expressed suicide on the day of their death. Coincidentally, findings indicated that children who attempted suicide are up to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide in adolescence. This study suggests more serious suicidal prevention for younger children, including strategies that differentiate children and adolescents.
Some suggested recommendations to address child suicide included:
- Investing in more effective suicide risk detection and targeted prevention initiatives for younger children.
- Strengthening parent-child relationships as a protective factor through family-based interventions.
- Robust mental health screening and suicide risk assessment.