Psychiatry>General Psychiatry

Preteen Suicide a ‘Worrying Trend,’ and Research Is Lacking

— 15% of preteens have thoughts of suicide, according to meta-analysis

by Shannon Firth, Washington Correspondent, MedPage Today May 27, 2022

A photo of a sad looking preteen girl resting her head on her hands on a table.

While deaths by suicide among preteens are rare, they are increasing, and self-injurious thoughts and behaviors are occurring with « concerning frequency, » according to a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Among over 600 million individuals across 58 studies, the lifetime prevalence of suicide was 0.79 per 1 million children across the general population, and pooled prevalence estimates for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and nonsuicidal self-injury were 15.1%, 2.6%, and 6.2%, respectively, among community samples, reported Richard Liu, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues.

In addition, approximately 17% of preteens who have suicidal thoughts will later attempt suicide, they noted in JAMA Psychiatry.

« Roughly one in a million children will end up dying by suicide, » Liu told MedPage Today.

As of 2019, suicide was the fifth leading cause of death in pre-adolescents — up from the 10th leading cause in 2008, according to the CDC.

The National Institute of Mental Health held meetings in 2019 and 2021 to address what Liu and his colleagues describe as a « worrying trend, » and called for scientists to prioritize research in this area.

Sadly, when younger children and preteens talk about hurting themselves, their comments are often discounted because of their age, Liu said. « They don’t mean that » or « They don’t really know what they’re saying, » are common reactions, he noted.

« And I think that these data show that … these statements are concerning, because they’re not as rare as we might think, » he added. « Fifteen percent of kids in that age group do have thoughts of suicide within their lifetime … that’s alarmingly high …

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