Suicide in elementary school-aged children and early adolescents

Arielle H. Sheftall, Lindsey Asti, Lisa M. Horowitz, Adrienne Felts, Cynthia A. Fontanella, John V. Campo, Jeffrey A. Bridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Suicide in elementary school-aged children is not well studied, despite a recent increase in the suicide rate among US black children. The objectives of this study were to describe characteristics and precipitating circumstances of suicide in elementary school-aged children relative to early adolescent decedents and identify potential within-group racial differences. METHODS: We analyzed National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) surveillance data capturing suicide deaths from 2003 to 2012 for 17 US states. Participants included all suicide decedents aged 5 to 14 years (N = 693). Age group comparisons (5-11 years and 12-14 years) were conducted by using the 2 test or Fisher's exact test, as appropriate. RESULTS: Compared with early adolescents who died by suicide, children who died by suicide were more commonly male, black, died by hanging/strangulation/suffocation, and died at home. Children who died by suicide more often experienced relationship problems with family members/friends (60.3% vs 46.0%; P =.02) and less often experienced boyfriend/girlfriend problems (0% vs 16.0%; P <.001) or left a suicide note (7.7% vs 30.2%; P <.001). Among suicide decedents with known mental health problems (n = 210), childhood decedents more often experienced attention-deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (59.3% vs 29.0%; P =.002) and less often experienced depression/dysthymia (33.3% vs 65.6%; P =.001) compared with early adolescent decedents. CONCLUSIONS: These findings raise questions about impulsive responding to psychosocial adversity in younger suicide decedents, and they suggest a need for both common and developmentally-specific suicide prevention strategies during the elementary school-aged and early adolescent years. Further research should investigate factors associated with the recent increase in suicide rates among black children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20160436
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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