The economic situation may be a harbinger of youth suicide


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds.

Children are committing suicide at an alarming rate in America, with suicide being the second cause of death among 10-19 year olds in the United States

The trend has impacted all communities, genders and socioeconomic populations – but young people are more likely to die by suicide in poverty-stricken areas, according to a new study from JAMA Pediatrics.

The study looked at nearly 21,000 suicide cases from 2007 to 2019 and found that children aged 5 to 19 were 37% more likely to die by suicide if they came from communities where 20% or more lived in below the federal poverty line.

“As a pediatrician, I have found it disturbing that the number of children who have died by suicide has increased dramatically over the past decade,” said lead author Dr Jennifer Hoffman, pediatric emergency physician at the hospital. for children Ann & Robert H. Lurie of Chicago. “I saw more and more children visiting the emergency room over time because they thought they wanted to kill themselves. Trying to reduce tragic and unnecessary deaths in children is at the heart of my work as an emergency doctor. pediatric.”

“I chose to study poverty as a risk factor for suicide because we know that children living in poverty experience a number of other health problems,” Hoffman said.

So why does poverty seem to increase youth suicide rates?

According to Dr. A. Lee Lewis, director of the division and training in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, “Poor children are already at a disadvantage. They do not have the privilege of an excellent education, extracurricular, active and sometimes even supportive families. In many cases, they are struggling to survive. This stress can be very overwhelming and can make the underlying depression, bipolar disorder, or substance use worse, which can ultimately lead to unhappy results. “

The study also found that children are nearly twice as likely to kill themselves with guns in high poverty counties.

“More work needs to be done to determine if there is a difference in the availability of firearms or differences in the safe storage practices of firearms,” ​​said Hoffman, who warns that “parents should store in safely all weapons present in the house “.

“From previous research, we know that most teens who die from gun suicide use a weapon belonging to a family member,” she said.

In vulnerable communities, experts say it’s important to be aware of any possible warning signs.

“The first thing I tell parents is to look for an increase in isolation behaviors, behaviors that don’t match their character, issues in school such as denunciations or provocative statements,” Lewis said. “Even a sudden onset or increase in substance use or promiscuous behavior can be a clue. Overall, look for changes in behavior and mood.”

“The number one predictor of successful suicide is previous suicide attempts,” he said. “Be very careful with self-harm (such as cuts and burns). A family history of suicide is another important risk factor.”

Authorities say preventing youth suicide is a very complicated issue, but focusing on the things we can change is a start.

“The truth is, we don’t know 100% why teens kill themselves.” Lewis said. “We know that identifying possible risk factors like poverty can give us clues. These clues can then help us better identify, treat and, hopefully, prevent further suicides in the future.”

If you are in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by sending TALK at 741-741.

John Smith, MD, is a psychiatry resident at the Medical University of South Carolina and contributes to the ABC News medical unit.


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