Why Do Children Commit Suicide?

According to a report in Pediatrics, Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) is the most common cause of suicide under the age of 12. Few children aged 5 to 11 take their own lives. The new study, which included deaths in 17 states from 2003 to 2012, compared 87 children aged 5 to 11 who committed suicide with 606 adolescents aged 12 to 14 who did, to see how they differed.

About a third of the children of each group had a known mental health problem. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of early adolescents who took their lives struggled with depression.

Suicide prevention has focused on identifying children struggling with depression; the new study provides an early hint that this strategy may not help the youngest suicide victims. Other experts cautioned that it was hard to draw definitive conclusions from such a small population. Researchers used a database with detailed suicide reports from coroners and medical examiners. It was unclear whether mental health professionals had diagnosed attention deficit problems in each case.

Last year, researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, among others, reported that the suicide rate among black 5- to 11-year-olds had almost doubled since 1993, while the rate for their white peers had declined. The new report found that about 37 percent of elementary school-aged children who committed suicide were black, compared with just 12 percent of adolescents who did so.

The children most commonly had fought with a relative or peer before committing suicide. About a third of the children and adolescents had experienced a problem at school. A similar percentage had gone through a recent crisis. About 30 percent of the nearly 700 children studied in the new research had told someone of their suicidal intentions.

Not only is it important to take seriously a declaration of suicidal intent, no matter the child’s age,  but it is also crucial for pediatricians, parents and school personnel to broach the topic with children if the adults are concerned.