March 12, 2019
1 min read

Children as young as 10 years may be at risk for suicide

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In a sample of 79 children aged 10 to 12 years presenting to the ED, nearly one-third screened positive for suicide risk, according to an NIH study.

“Typically, suicidal thoughts and behaviors are seen in older teens. It was troubling to see that so many preteens screened positive for suicide risk, and we were alarmed to find that many of them had acted on their suicidal thoughts in the past,” Lisa Horowitz, PhD, MPH, from the NIMH, said in a press release.

Preteens presenting to the ED were administered the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions to determine recent suicidal thoughts and lifetime suicidal behavior, as well as the criterion-standard Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire to determine suicidal ideation severity in the past month. Positive screen for suicide risk was defined as answering affirmatively to any of the four Ask Suicide-Screening Questions and/or scoring above the Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire cutoff score (> 31).

Of 79 preteen patients, 23 (29.1%) screened positive for suicide risk. However, less than half of the sample (n = 37) went to the ED because of chief psychiatric issues — such as depression, violent behavior and panic disorder — while most children presented with medical complaints (n = 42).

Overall, 54.1% of the 37 preteens presenting with a psychiatric concern screened positive for suicide risk and 7.1% of the preteens with medical complaints screened positive for suicide risk.

Participants presenting with psychiatric complaints were more than 17 times more likely than those presenting with medical complaints to screen positive for suicide risk, the results showed.

In addition, 17.7% of the preteens had a previous history of suicidal behavior, all of whom visited the ED for psychiatric reasons. At the time of screening, half of participants who reported past suicidal behavior were aged 10 years, suggesting that 8.9% of all patients engaged in past suicidal behavior at age 10 or younger, according to the researchers.

“This study shows that children as young as 10 who show up in the emergency department may be thinking about suicide, and that screening all preteens — regardless of their presenting symptoms — may save lives,” Horowitz said in the release. “Otherwise, they may pass through our medical systems undetected.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.