Death by Suicide of US Children in Epidemic Rates
by Richard Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken
The three most common causes of death in children, suicide, vehicular accidents, and neoplasms, are approximately of equal incidence but suicides are increasing at an alarming rate.
While even the definition of the age of an individual considered to be a “child” varies in the literature, consensus to group statistics that aggregates age in bands of 5 years would suggest a population under 15 leading to the age range considered here 10 to 14 years inclusive.
Suicide requires that the individual executing it understand the concept of death. This appears to be the case generally for children older than 8 years old, and many of them are capable of planning, attempting and dying by suicide.
Deaths by suicide are generally under reported because of the associated stigma; this is particularly true of children with cause of death reported as accidents rather than suicide.
The following data on the death of children by suicide come from the Global Burden of Disease assembled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Death by Suicide: Male Children
Figure 1 Death by Suicide US Male Children
For male children ages 10 through and including 14 years old, Figure 1 indicates a recent sharp rise in the death rate by suicide. The most recent death rate is 15.6% from 2014 as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics. This compares to 6.2% in 2007 – a more than doubling the suicide rate in seven years.
Death by Suicide: Female Children
For female children in the US, the trend is similar as shown in Figure 2. In 2014, 13.4% of the cause of death was by suicide, up from 3.8% in 2007 – more than tripling the rate in seven years.
Figure 2 Death by Suicide US Female Children
Even disregarding outlier data, there is no doubt that suicide rates among our children is significantly on the rise.
Death by Vehicular Accidents: Males
Compare the cause of suicide death for male children to that of vehicular accidents, shown in Figure 3. Note that fortunately this cause of death is declining and in 2014 was 16.7%, similar to the rate of suicide.
Figure 3 Death by Vehicular Accidents of US Male Children
Death by Vehicular Accidents: Females
Figure 4 shows the death rate of females by vehicular accidents. Note that fortunately this cause of death is declining and in 2014 was 15.4%, similar to the rate of suicide.
Figure 4 Death by Vehicular Accidents in US Female Children
Other cause of death for US Children
Neoplasms cause about 15% of the deaths for male and female children in the US and appears to be rather steady over the past two decades.
Suicide rate shifting to younger age group
Figure 5 Suicide Rate by Age US Males 2000 – 2004
Figure 6 Suicide Rate by Age US Males 2010 – 2016
Figures 5 and 6 illustrate the suicide rate of US males for various ages in 2000 – 2004 compared to that in 2010 – 2016. In this rather short time interval, the most likely mean rate changed from about 25 to 15 years old. Data for females are very similar with the same approximate means for the two time intervals.
This is further indication of the crisis of suicides in our children.
 Mishara, B. L. (1998). Childhood conceptions of death and suicide: Empirical investigations and implications of suicide prevention. In D. De Leo, A. Schmidtke, & Diekstra, R. F. (Eds.), Suicide prevention: A holistic approach (pp. 111-119). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
 Tishler, C. L., Reiss, N. S., & Rhodes, A. R. (2007). Suicidal behaviour in children younger than twelve: A diagnostic challenge for emergency department personnel. Academic Emergency Medicine, 14, 810-818.
 Crepeau-Hobson, F. (2010). The psychological autopsy and determination of child suicides: A survey of medical examiners. Archives of Suicide Research, 14, 24-34.
 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Causes of Death (COD) Data Visualization. Seattle, WA: IHME, University of Washington, 2017. Available from http://vizhub.healthdata.org/cod. (Accessed February 18, 2018)