September is designated as World Suicide Prevention Month. The Centers for Disease Control has noted that suicide rates across the country are on the rise, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth and young adults (ages 10 to 34).(1) According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the majority of individuals who die by suicide had contact with a healthcare provider within three months of their death. (2) The National Center for Health Statistics in 2016 released data showing a sharp rise in suicide amongst 10-14 year old children. Both the CDC and a study from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2019 have found that while there has been a rise in suicide rates for both males and females in this age group, there has been a disproportionately increased rate among young females. The gap is narrowing between genders. More young people are dying from suicide, particularly in the preteen/young teen age group. The trends are disturbing and indicate an urgent need to identify and provide interventions for vulnerable youth.
It is important to remember that asking about suicidal ideation does not increase risk for suicide. As primary care providers, screening patients for suicide during appointments may help a child or adolescent who is at risk of attempting suicide. One of the keys to preventing suicide is knowing who is at risk. Patients with a history of abuse, who have suffered a loss, a history of alcohol and substance abuse and those with a history of mental illness, especially depression, have heightened risk of suicide. Additionally, research has highlighted that those youth whose parents use opioids are at twice the risk of suicide than their peers without parental opioid use. (3)
Integrating regular suicide screening into a pediatric practice is recommended and the NIMH has developed a tool kit for use in pediatric outpatient settings. It allows primary care providers to screen children for suicide starting at age ten. To obtain the free toolkit and screening tools from NIMH visit their website. Additionally, the Illinois DocAssist website has resources for providers to give to patients and families to assist with suicide prevention and crisis situations.
- Brent DA, Hur K, Gibbons RD. (2019). Association Between Parental Medical Claims for Opioid Prescriptions and Risk of Suicide Attempt by Their Children. JAMA psychiatry 76 99): 941-947.