A recent study found that the number of children aged 10-12 using drugs to attempt suicide or self-harm more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2020.
PORTLAND, Ore. — The number of children using drugs to attempt suicide has increased over the past 20 years. New research from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) shows the biggest jump is in children ages 10 to 12.
According to an OHSU study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the number has more than quadrupled over the past two decades in this age group. Among older teens, the rate at which children use drugs found at home to attempt suicide or self-harm has nearly doubled.
“Usually when we think of teenage suicide, we think of teenage suicide. Here we’re not even talking about teenagers, we’re talking about usually prepubescent children between the ages of 10 and 12,” said Dr. Mike Franz , senior medical director of Regence.
“It’s a terrifying statistic, which I think brings a lot of sobriety to how we should think about what’s going on in our society and what we can do to prevent it,” he added.
The research comes from Dr. Kyle Johnson and his team at OHSU’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
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“Our group did a research study looking at our data over the past few years and found that the vast majority of drugs used by young people to attempt suicide are those readily available at home,” Dr Johnson said. .
His team’s research shows that drugs found at home were involved in almost half of the cases.
“We know from research elsewhere that a large proportion of young people who decide to attempt suicide make that decision within five minutes to an hour of actually attempting it,” Johnson said. “So again, it’s very impulsive, something stressful can happen, they feel hopeless, and they decide to attempt suicide and attempt this in a short time.”
This is why he said blocking access to means is crucial and can save lives. This means securing your medications at home. The best way to do this is to use a medicine safe.
“This impulsiveness can cause them to make a split-second decision that can end their life or lead to significant morbidity, such as intensive care unit hospitalization or even liver transplant for certain medications,” Johnson said. .
“Basically, it’s a lethal means restriction approach where we really need parents to secure the drugs at home — especially if there’s an increased risk of intentional use,” Franz said.
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This means keeping all medications out of reach and safe, whether they’re prescriptions or over-the-counter pills like Tylenol.
Both doctors said parents and adults also need to look at the bigger picture to address the mental health of our children. It starts with raising awareness and listening.
“I think we have to start first directly with our children and as parents. We just have to be listening, available, present and open. Pay attention and see what is happening with your children. Give them space to talk,” Franz said.
“Observe our young people to help detect any changes in behaviors, emotions, future outlook, as this may suggest depression or if they may have other anxieties or burdens. These are all risk factors for suicide,” Johnson added.
He said it was also important to ask about children’s mental health.
“We know from research that asking does not increase the risk of a teenager or adult attempting or dying by suicide. It can actually save lives. So don’t be afraid to ask if you are observing a really healthy young difficulty.”