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More Children Are Dying By Suicide Recently, Study Shows


Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth in the United States, but suicide attempts and death in younger children have also been rising in recent years. Now a new study in JAMA Network Open outlines the risk factors linked to suicide in kids aged 11 and younger. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee reports.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Donna Ruch had noticed the trend with suicide among kids aged 5 to 11.

DONNA RUCH: Between, like, 2012, 2017, we saw close to a 15% increase in rates of suicide.

CHATTERJEE: Ruch is a research scientist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, which is a funder of NPR. She and her colleagues examine the circumstances behind each suicide death of children who died between 2013 and 2017. They found multiple factors associated with each death - factors like mental illness.

RUCH: A third of these children had a mental health diagnosis.

CHATTERJEE: Many kids had prior suicidal thoughts and behaviors. There were childhood traumas, neglect, abuse or death in the family, difficult family circumstances like divorce, custody battles, parental substance abuse. Plus there were problems at school.

WARREN NG: One of the things that I find really helpful about the study is that it really reflects the world of the child.

CHATTERJEE: Dr. Warren Ng is the president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

NG: We have to appreciate that children are highly impacted by their family, their community, their schools.

CHATTERJEE: This is especially relevant now, he says, given how the pandemic has affected children. Most were disconnected from supports and services at school. Many, especially kids in communities of color, lost parents and relatives to COVID-19. And he says...

NG: For children appearing in emergency departments with a mental health condition is increased 24% for the ages of 5 to 11.

CHATTERJEE: The new study can help with prevention, says Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology.

JONATHAN SINGER: If your kid is in treatment, if there are issues going on in school, if there is a history of trauma, these are important things to talk about with your kids.

CHATTERJEE: And he says, ask your child directly if they've had thoughts about dying.

Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.

SHAPIRO: And you can also have your child talk to a counselor at the National Suicide Hotline. The number is 1-800-273-8255.


Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.