Child and Teen Suicides In Canada
Youth Suicides in Canada and elsewhere
Youth Suicide report - Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
Prevention of Suicide
Prepared by Jane E. McNamee, MA, Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, Chedoke McMaster Hospitals and David R. Offord, MD, FRCPC, Professor of Psychiatry, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario
To make recommendations regarding routine evaluation of suicide risk in individuals from high-risk groups, and interventions to prevent suicide in these individuals. This updates a 1990 report.
Burden of Suffering
Suicide has accounted for about 2% of annual deaths in Canada since the late 1970s. Eighty percent of all suicides reported in 1991 involved men. The male:female ratio for suicide risk was 3.8:1. In both males and females, the greatest increase between 1960 and 1991 occurred in the 15-to-19-year age group, with a four-and-a-half-fold increase for males, and a three-fold increase for females.
Read the report: Canadian Task Force on Preventive Care 2003
The Canadian Mental Health Association / L'Association Canadienne Pour La Sant Mentale
Reflections on Youth Suicide
Adolescence is a time of dramatic change. The journey from child to adult can be complex and challenging. Young people often feel tremendous pressure to succeed at school, at home and in social groups. At the same time, they may lack the life experience that lets them know that difficult situations will not last forever. Mental health problems commonly associated with adults, such as depression, also affect young people. Any one of these factors, or a combination, may become such a source of pain that they seek relief in suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people after motor vehicle accidents. Yet people are often reluctant to discuss it. This is partly due to the stigma, guilt or shame that surrounds suicide. People are often uncomfortable discussing it. Unfortunately, this tradition of silence perpetuates harmful myths and attitudes. It can also prevent people from talking openly about the pain they feel or the help they need.
Communication is the first essential step in assisting youths at risk of suicide. Learning the facts about suicide can help build a parent's confidence in discussing a difficult subject.
SOME MYTHS ABOUT SUICIDE
Myth: Young people rarely think about suicide.
Reality: Teens and suicide are more closely linked than adults might expect. In a survey of 15,000 grade 7 to 12 students in British Columbia, 34% knew of someone who had attempted or died by suicide; 16% had seriously considered suicide; 14% had made a suicide plan; 7% had made an attempt and 2% had required medical attention due to an attempt.
Myth: Talking about suicide will give a young
person the idea, or permission, to consider suicide as a
solution to their problems.
Reality: Talking calmly about suicide, without showing fear or making judgments, can bring relief to someone who is feeling terribly isolated. A willingness to listen shows sincere concern; encouraging someone to speak about their suicidal feelings can reduce the risk of an attempt.
Myth: Suicide is sudden and unpredictable.
Reality: Suicide is most often a process, not an event. Eight out of ten people who die by suicide gave some, or even many, indications of their intentions.
Myth: Suicidal youth are only seeking attention
or trying to manipulate others.
Reality: Efforts to manipulate or grab attention are always a cause for concern. It is difficult to determine if a youth is at risk of suicide All suicide threats must be taken seriously.
Myth: Suicidal people are determined to die.
Reality: Suicidal youth are in pain. They don't necessarily want to die; they want their pain to end. If their ability to cope is stretched to the limit, or if problems occur together with a mental illness, it can seem that death is the only way to make the pain stop.
Myth: A suicidal person will always be at risk.
Reality: Most people feel suicidal at some time in their lives. The overwhelming desire to escape from pain can be relieved when the problem or pressure is relieved. Learning effective coping techniques to deal with stressful situations can help.
WHO IS AT RISK
In Canada, suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10-24. Each year, on average, 294 youths die from suicide. Many more attempt suicide. Aboriginal teens and gay and lesbian teens may be at particularly high risk, depending on the community they live in and their own self esteem.
Suicide is a complex process. The cause can seldom be attributed to one single factor, such as the death by suicide of a rock star or family break-up. It may be a routine event or an overwhelming one that overloads a vulnerable youth's coping mechanisms. As well, new research suggests that there may be a genetic link to suicide. A family history of suicidal behaviour should be taken into account, if for no other reason than the young person may have been affected by this behaviour in the past.
Suicidal youth rarely make a direct plea for help. But most will exhibit warning signs. Here are some of these signs:
- Sudden change in behaviour (positive or negative)
- Apathy, withdrawal, change in eating patterns
- Unusual preoccupation with death or dying
- Giving away valued personal possessions
- Signs of depression; moodiness, hopelessness
- One or more previous suicide attempts
- Recent attempt or death by suicide by a friend or a family member
TALKING ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE
Warning signs are an invitation to communicate. A direct, straightforward response is most effective. Ask your child if he or she is contemplating suicide; no matter what you hear, try not to be judgmental, shocked or angry. Do not communicate your personal attitudes about suicide; instead, offer support and reassurance that suicidal feelings do not last forever. Seek the assistance of a trained professional as soon as possible.
Your child's school may have protocols to follow in the case of a suicide attempt or death by suicide. It is important that the suicide is not romanticised or glamourised. Instead, teachers are encouraged to discuss with students the characteristics and events that can lead to suicide, and to explore with them all the other options that exist. But school should not be the only source of help. For parents, an attempted suicide or death by suicide in their child's circle of friends presents an opportunity to explore their child's stress levels and methods of coping. Dramatic statements emphasising the parent's horror and fear "of suicide are best avoided. It is more effective to express a willingness to talk and to be supportive, no matter what may be happening in the child's life Canadian Mental Health Association - Youths and Suicide Pamphlet
Youth Suicide in the United States
Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide (Harvard University discussion paper) by David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, and Karen E. Norberg of Harvard Institute of Economic Research, Discussion Paper Number 1917, March 2001. - An interesting paper
Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century, even as rates for adults and the elderly have declined. And for every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 suicide attempts. This paper examines the dynamics of youth suicide attempts and completions, and reaches three conclusions. First, we suggest that many suicide attempts by youths can be viewed as a strategic action on the part of the youth to resolve conflicts within oneself or with others. Youths have little direct economic or familial power, and in such a situation, self-injury can be used to signal distress or to encourage a response by others. Second, we present evidence for contagion effects. Youths who have a friend or family members who attempts or commits suicide are more likely to attempt or commit suicide themselves. Finally, we show that to the extent we can explain the rise in youth suicide over time, the most important explanatory variable is the increased share of youths living in homes with a divorced parent. The divorce rate is more important for suicides than either the share of children living with step-parents or the share of female-headed households. View Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide (Harvard University discussion paper)
Children from single-mothers households (compared to children of two parent households) are five times more likely to commit suicide.
Youth Suicide in the U.K.
Rates are highest among young men
The London Times, UK, by STEWART TENDLER, November 09, 2004
SUICIDES accounted for 13 per cent of the 27,100 inquest verdicts in England and Wales last year, with 2,511 men killing themselves compared with 744 women.
The highest ever suicide numbers occurred around 1931, at the start of the Depression, when rates for the older age groups were higher than those of the youngest groups. However, since the end of the 1950s there has been a marked increase in suicide death rates in people aged 15 to 24 and a sharp decline in those over 44.
Last year's total figures were the second lowest since 1988, and since the 1990s the number has always remained below 4,000. Young men are the most likely to kill themselves, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Young women aged 15-44 had the lowest suicide rate between 1979 and 2001. More ..
BBC, UK, July 5, 2004
Protein kinase C activity was lower in teens who committed suicide. The activity of a brain enzyme thought to affect mood may be reduced in teens who commit suicide, according to US researchers.
Dr Ghanshyam Pandey and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the brains of 34 teenagers who had died - 17 by suicide.
Protein kinase C (PKC) activity levels were much lower in the suicide victims' brains.
The findings are reported in Archives of General Psychiatry. More ..
By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News, September 28, 2003
Legal issues and relationship problems were main reasons for those taking their lives.
The Indianapolis Star, Staff Report, November 23, 2002
The Ottawa Citizen, by Jeffrey Asher, May 16, 2002
The Globe and Mail, by Dawn Walton, November 29, 2001 Print Edition, Page A10
Males in their mid-forties most likely to take their lives, Ontario group finds
Radio Telefs ireann (RT) is the Irish Public Service Broadcasting Organisation, November 22, 2001
Ottawa Citizen, Sharon Kirkey, June 13, 2000
Rate is especially high among baby boomers, statistics reveal
The National Post, The Gazette, Montreal, Lynn Moore, Monday, February 15, 1999
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