7-minute Briefing Paper for professionals on suicide in children and young people

3rd December 2021

Suffolk Safeguarding Partnership has recently published a very useful 7-minute briefing for professionals on suicide in children and young people which includes warning signs to be aware of, how you might consider responding to concerns and where to go for further help.

The death of a child by suicide is an unimaginable tragedy. A young life is lost, a family is devastated, the society where it happens is diminished. The risk, it should be stressed, is low but the need to improve prevention could not be higher. Suicide and its prevention is complex and rarely caused by one thing. We need to understand who is at risk and when, the stresses and settings, and the response of services. Suicide among children has risen for at least a decade and become a public health priority. Non-fatal self-harm has increased too and spread to younger adolescents. Young people are becoming more likely to see self-harm as a way of coping with stress. As with all deaths of children and young people, there is a strong need to understand what happened, and why, in every case so that anything that can be learned to prevent future child suicide is identified and acted upon.

What does it mean for prevention? Encourage young people to understand their own emotional health, to ask for help when they need it. Ensure services are skilled and accessible. For all of us, stay vigilant and supportive of family and friends.

An October 2021 report from the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) adds to our understanding by examining the individual tragedies.

Key findings in brief

  • Services should be aware that child suicide is not limited to certain groups; rates of suicide were similar across all areas, and regions in England, including urban and rural environments, and across deprived and affluent neighbourhoods.
  • Suicide is more common in boys than girls and in those aged over 15. The most common means of suicide is hanging or strangulation followed by jumping or lying in front of a fast moving object. Over 60% of suicides occur within the home.
  • Over 6 out of 10 of the young people whose cases were reviewed in the study had suffered a significant personal loss in their life prior to their death, this includes bereavement and “living losses” such as loss of friendships and routine due to moving home or school or other close relationship breakdown.
  • Over one third of the children and young people reviewed had never been in contact with mental health services which suggests that mental health needs or risks were not identified.
  • 16% of children or young people reviewed had a confirmed diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition at the time of their death. For example, autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This appears higher than found in the general population.
  • Almost a quarter of children and young people reviewed had experienced bullying either face to face or cyber bullying. The majority of reported bullying occurred in school, highlighting the need for clear anti-bullying policies in schools.

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