(basibanget/Flikr)

Canadian research finds steep increase in suicide attempts by children

Canadian data is too incomplete to measure the scope of the problem

The rising number of children being taken to hospital for suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts is being described as a crisis, but Canadian data is too incomplete to measure the scope of the problem, a Montreal researcher who has studied the issue says.

Dr. Brett Burstein, a pediatric emergency room physician, co-authored a study published this week that found the number of children who have been hospitalized in the United States for contemplating or attempting suicide doubled between 2007 and 2015 — to 1.12 million from 580,000.

Suicide attempts or thoughts also increased as a proportion of all pediatric emergency room visits, from 2.17 per cent to 3.5 per cent. The findings come from public health data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and analyzed by Burstein and two Montreal Children’s Hospital colleagues, Holly Agostino and Brian Greenfield.

Burstein says comparable national data isn’t available in Canada, but evidence suggests a similar trend is occurring. He notes that in his hospital, emergency room visits for suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts have increased by 55 per cent rise since 2015 and now account for approximately two per cent of all visits.

“Certainly what we’re seeing (in Montreal) models the experience we’re seeing (in the study), as has the tendency for that patient population to be younger and younger,” said Burstein, who is also an associate investigator with the McGill University Health Centre’s child health and human development program.

READ MORE: ‘Children are going to die:’ Watchdog’s report on Tina Fontaine urges changes

“It’s reasonable to call this a pediatric mental health crisis,” he said.

Burstein says one of the most disturbing findings to emerge from the American data was the fact that 43 per cent of the children taken to the emergency department were between the ages of five and 12.

He said that number is particularly worrying because a first suicide attempt is “the strongest predictor of a lifelong risk of completed suicide.”

He says the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows a clear need for more training for emergency personnel to ensure children get the help they need quickly. “This is our port of entry and our opportunity to identify people at risk,” he said.

He also called on Canadian public health officials to develop national health data comparable to what exists in the United States.

“We think of American trends as a problem that’s south of the border only,” he said. ”It’s not that it’s an American problem only. It’s that we don’t even know if it’s a Canadian problem, very often.”

Fardous Hosseiny, the national director of research and public policy for the Canadian Mental Health Association, agrees that Canada needs better data.

He says that would allow officials to direct funding more effectively to treat what he describes as an “epidemic” of suicidal thoughts among Canadian youth. He said the rise in suicidal behaviour can be explained by a combination of factors, including a lack of mental health services, youth feeling increasingly pressured to succeed, and social isolation and bullying brought on by social media use.

“This is really a transition period for children, both neurobiologically and socially,” he said in a phone interview. “They have to navigate different social settings and peer groups while discovering who they are, and juggling greater responsibility and how to live more independently.”

Hosseiny says effectively tackling the problem will require much larger investments in mental health services, so that people no longer have to wait months for treatment. Ultimately, he believes mental health should be placed on a par with physical health, including being taught in schools just like gym class.

“Are we teaching social and emotional learning in schools, where kids can navigate through their feelings and understand what a tough day is when they’re struggling?” he asked. “We’re not doing that.”

He said that while the reasons for suicidal behaviour are multiple and complex, there are also “protective factors” that loved ones can put in place to help young people who are struggling.

These include family connectedness, self-esteem, a positive school environment and peer support, as well as better early intervention and treatment. “We don’t wait until Stage 4 to treat cancer, so why do we do it with mental illness?” Hosseiny asked.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Four in custody after armed robbery, suspects linked to other recent crimes

Four people are in custody after Cranbrook RCMP responded to a robbery… Continue reading

Former Fernie Ghostrider re-signs with Vancouver Canucks

Josh Teves has signed a two-year contract with the NHL team

Author to host book signing in Kimberley

The book ‘Lost’ tells the story of Kimberley local Paul Kerr who went missing on the Grey Creek Pass in 2015

Emergency services on scene of Kimberley accident

Police and emergency services are on scene of an accident in Kimberley… Continue reading

Stolen credit card suspect caught on video

Cranbrook RCMP investigating theft from vehicle

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

Body, burning truck found near northern B.C. town

RCMP unsure if the two separate discoveries are related

Couple found dead along northern B.C. highway in double homicide

Woman from the U.S. and man from Australia found dead near Liard Hot Springs

UPDATE: West Kelowna fawn euthanized, not claimed by sanctuary

Gilbert the deer has been euthanized after a suitable home was not found in time

Weed Warrior: Common Tansy is toxic, but what’s with all the Oxeye Daisy & Foxtail Barley?

Pictured above: Common Tansy. Below. Red Columbine, Eastern Red Columbine, Foxtail Barley… Continue reading

BC Wildfire Service warns wet weather no reason to be complacent

Fire risk currently low for much of B.C. compared to same time over last two years.

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

B.C. man pleads guilty in snake venom death of toddler

Plea comes more than five years after the incident in North Vancouver

Trudeau says Ottawa open to proposals for B.C. refinery as gas prices soar

Prime minister says he knows B.C. residents are struggling and the federal government is open to ideas

Most Read