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Over 26 pct rise in US children attempting suicide by poisoning: Report

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Researchers have noted a concerning rise in the number of suicide attempts by poisoning among children between the ages of six and 19 in the US, reporting an increase of 26.7 percent between 2015 and 2020.

The findings, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, were based on a review of cases reported to the country’s National Poison Data System as “suspected suicides,” researchers from the University of Virginia said in a statement last week, encompassing both attempted suicides and death by suicide.

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“The impetus for our research team to perform this study was that we began to notice an increase in younger-aged children attempting suicide by acute overdoses in our clinical practice at UVA Health,” Dr. Christopher Holstege, medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the university’s School of Medicine, said.

“We were disturbed at our institutional numbers and decided to perform research on the national numbers – which confirmed that this increase was not just a local issue, but a national issue.”

The total number of suspected suicides by self-poisoning rose from 75,248 in 2015 to over 93,000 in 2020. Girls accounted for over 77 percent of pediatric self-poisoning cases throughout the six-year period; this increase occurred while overall calls to the country’s poison centers decreased.

The largest increase in the rate of suspected suicides occurred in children ages 10 to 12, growing 109.3 percent, though all pediatric age groups saw increases.

Two of the most common substances used in suicide poisoning attempts were acetaminophen and ibuprofen both over-the-counter painkillers which children have easier access to. The reported self-poisonings included 276 deaths and 14,916 cases of “major effects,” the research team said, some of which include life-threatening symptoms and long-lasting disfigurement or disability.

The researchers wrote that the data they collected demonstrated that “the pediatric mental health crisis is worsening and extending into younger populations.”

“We need to be vigilant for the warning signs associated with suicide risk in our children,” Holstege said.

“Our study is one of a number that demonstrates that we are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis in younger age groups. As a society, we must commit more resources to the mental health needs of our children.”

The researchers recommended expanding mental health screening and interventions for children.

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