Alarming rise in number of children attempting suicide by poisoning, report warns

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The number of suicide attempts via poisoning are rising dramatically in children between the ages of 6 to 19, according to a new report. Between 2015 and 2020, attempts rose 26.7%, highlighting a growing mental health crisis among youths.

Cases reported to the National Poison Data System included both attempted and deaths by suicide. In 2015, the number of suspected suicides through poisoning was 75, 248. In 2020, that number rose to 93,532. Yet while the number of suspected suicides increased, the number of calls to U.S. poison centers decreased.

Data shows girls make up 77% of the cases. Children of all age groups showed increases in suspected suicide cases via self-poisoning, but alarmingly, there was a 109.3% increase in kids between 10 and 12.

“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,” says Dr. Christopher Holstege, the medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in a media release. “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 two most common self-poisoning methods in children were overdosing on acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Both pain reliever medications are available without prescription in stores and children are more likely to have easy access to these drugs. Among these, there were 276 deaths and 14,916 cases of self-poisoning that left children with life-threatening symptoms or long-term disability.

“This data demonstrates concerning rises in cases of self-poisoning among all pediatric groups between 6 and 19 years of age, suggesting that the pediatric mental health crisis is worsening and extending into younger populations,” the study authors wrote in the study.

The alarming rise in suicide attempts by poison shows a dire need for pediatric mental health services. “We need to be vigilant for the warning signs associated with suicide risk in our children,” explains Dr. Holstege. “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 study is published and available to read in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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