Differences in Medical Care for Young People Preceding Suicide

Suicide is a leading cause of death in people between age 10 and 25. Prevention and intervention programs are ever changing and growing to reach more and more young people at risk for suicide. However, many opportunities for early intervention are being missed. Understanding the type of medical care young people receive prior to attempting suicide, and how this care may vary by gender, could provide valuable information enabling a more focused intervention and screening approach.

To get a better idea of how gender affects medical care preceding suicide, Anne E. Rhodes, PhD, a Research Scientist at the Suicide Studies Research Unit at Keenan Research Centre of St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario recently led a study examining medical records of 724 young people who had died by suicide between 2003 and 2007. Rhodes looked at inpatient hospital stay, outpatient and inpatient mental health care, primary physician care, psychiatric care and emergency department (ED) visits.

She found that of the 532 boys and 192 girls who had died by suicide, just over 10% were under 15 years old. Therefore, she focused her analysis on the deaths of those between the ages of 16 and 25. The results revealed that 80% had some contact with medical care in the year preceding their death, with outpatient primary care doctor being the most common type of care. Approximately half of the girls and half of the boys had visited the ED, but twice as many girls as boys were admitted to the hospital after they entered the ED.

When Rhodes looked at psychiatric care, she found that very few of the boys or girls had psychiatric contact prior to their deaths. However, in the ED setting, nearly one third of boys seen had some form of psychosis, usually schizophrenia, while none of the girls did. Rhodes also examined time between last medical contact and death, and found that girls were more likely to see a doctor in the month prior to their deaths. In general, girls were also more likely than boys to have entered the ED in the months preceding death as well.

Rhodes believes these findings show the need for mental health assessment across all medical settings in order to identify those most at risk for suicide. She said, “At present, there are numerous clinical interventions which may well prevent suicide in boys and girls (if accessed) ranging from low-cost, brief interventions to referral to more specialized treatment.” Future work should test different methods and their respective effectiveness in a similarly age-matched sample to determine if suicide prevention can be increased in this vulnerable segment of the population.

Rhodes, Anne E., PhD, et al. (2013). Sex differences in suicides among children and youth: The potential impact of help-seeking behavior. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 58.5 (2013): 274-82. ProQuest. Web.

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  • frances


    September 5th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    I am guessing that they did not receive these evals because it it kind of off the radar that kids this young would even start thinking about suicide at this age.
    I almost did a double take reading this that suicide was a leading cause of death for kids as young as 10 years old. That really makes me so sad to think that children the same age of my grandkids, who seem to have not a worry in the world, would actually have such a terrible life that they would think of killing themselves.

  • Olivia


    September 6th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    think that this is representing a cry for help that the girls are exhibiting in the weeks leading up their deaths that the boys either aren’t openly showing or that isn’t being paid attention to?

    either way, this is our wake up call to keep our eyes wide open when it comes to our young people

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