While the number of youths in Connecticut who die by suicide has declined since 2007, the average age of the children who kill themselves has decreased from 17 to just over 14, and the percentage of youths who report self-injury or feelings of hopelessness has risen in recent years, according to a new report by the Office of the Child Advocate.
In the new Public Health Alert, Child Advocate Sarah Eagan urged, “We must sound the alarm about the prevalence of youth anguish and despair . . . We must ensure that a helping hand is part of every child’s life, and that no child or family suffers in silence.”
Her office and the state’s Child Fatality Review Panel called for increased screening of youths for depression and suicidal thoughts by health care providers and schools, expanded access to “timely and effective” clinical care, and an annual child fatality legislative hearing to address child deaths and prevention strategies.
The alert comes as the state considers a variety of proposals to improve behavioral health screening and access to treatment for children and young adults.
According to the new report, 10 children died by suicide in 2013 and six in 2014 – 11 of them girls and five boys. That gender disparity runs counter to research findings, which have shown that while girls are more likely to have depressed thoughts, boys are far more likely to complete suicide, the report says.
The report includes a breakdown of suicides in 2013 that shows five of the 10 youths died within six weeks of the start of school, one on the afternoon of the first day of school. Six of the 10 had previous involvement with the state Department of Children and Families or the juvenile justice system. Only one of the 10 teens deaths was from a gunshot wound; the rest were by hanging.
From 2001 to 2014, Connecticut lost 114 youths to suicide – an average of eight deaths a year. A Youth Risk Behavior Survey given to high school students every two years showed that 27.2 percent of teens reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row in 2013 – up from 24.4 percent in 2011. Rates were higher for females than males (34.9 percent vs. 19.7 percent) and significantly higher among Hispanics (40.8 percent) than among non-Hispanic whites or blacks (24 percent and 23 percent).
Reported rates of attempted suicide declined from 2005 to 2011, but increased slightly in 2013. Rates of “self-injury,” such as cutting oneself, also rose over the most recent two years – from 16.1 percent to 16.7 percent.
Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, co-chair of the Child Fatality Review Panel, said that while adolescence brings “newfound independence,” it also can be marked by “intense isolation and despair” for some teens. She urged adults to “be vigilant for those who may be at risk, and provide support and timely referrals” to those who need help.
C-HIT is hosting a community forum on teen depression and mental health this Thursday evening, 5-7:30 p.m. at the Lyceum in Hartford. Advance registration and information is available here.