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 Suicide: Dramatic rise in young people's numbers

Suicide: Dramatic rise in young people's numbers

These toxicology researchers, pediatricians, and emergency department physicians at the University of Virginia, describe "an unprecedented mental health crisis among young people." The study, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, shows that suicide attempts by poisoning among U.S. children will increase by 27% between 2015 and 2020. These alarming numbers, which also have "pandemic" implications, require our communities to provide more resources for the mental health and well-being of our children and youth.

While several studies have described the rise in prevalence of depressive symptoms among adolescents, particularly as a result of the COVID pandemic and social distancing measures, this study sheds new light on the mental health crisis of children and young adults through an epidemiological analysis of SA related to poisoning.

Increasing youth suicides, a "national" phenomenon, and furthermore

Suicides by poisoning among children and adolescents have increased by 27% over the past five years. This is according to an analysis of reports to the National Poison Data System, referred to as "suspected suicides," which include both suicides by poisoning and deaths by suicide:

  • The number of suspected self-poisonings was 93,532 in 2020, up from 75,248 in 2015,
  • Girls are the main victims: they accounted for 78% of poisoning suicides in this age group during the period,
  • This increase is all the more dramatic because the total number of calls to poison control centers has decreased,
  • Although suicides increased in all pediatric age groups, the increase was greatest in the 10- to 12-year-old age group, at 109.3% between 2015 and 2020 - a more than alarming finding.

"As physicians, we noticed an increase in the number of children attempting suicide by acute overdose in our clinical practice at UVA Health," said one of the lead authors, Dr. Christopher Holstege, medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center and director of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Virginia, "so we decided to look at national data that confirmed this increase was not a local problem, but a national phenomenon, and on a larger scale."

What "toxins?" 

The two substances most commonly implicated in suicide poisonings among children and adolescents are acetaminophen and ibuprofen, two over-the-counter painkillers available to everyone. Among the reported poisonings, there were 276 deaths and 14,916 cases of "severe effects," meaning symptoms that can be fatal or lead to long-term disability or incapacitation.

"The increase in self-intoxication is of great concern in all age groups from 6 to 19 years and suggests that young people are experiencing a real mental health crisis," the authors said. The authors call for assessing and recognizing this SH risk in young people and making mental health interventions more accessible.

"Our study is one of many that show we are experiencing a real and unprecedented crisis in youth mental health. As a society, we need to provide more resources for the mental health of our children."

 A side effect of young people's social isolation? More than likely.


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