Suicide among females 10-19 up slightly, males down: study
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 2, 2012 6:44PM EDT
TORONTO - The suicide rate for Canadian girls aged 10 to 19 has risen over the last few decades, but decreased for boys of the same age, a study has found.
The report in Monday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal also found suffocation -- including hanging -- is the most common method for both young males and females.
In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 233 Canadians aged 10 to 19 -- 156 males and 77 females -- died by their own hands.
Suicide accounts for 20 per cent of deaths from all causes in this age group, compared with 1.5 per cent of deaths among the entire population. It is the second leading cause of death, behind accidents, for Canadian youth between ages 15 and 24.
"We found overall that suicide rates among 10- to 19-year-olds decreased slightly," said Robin Skinner, a senior epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada, who co-wrote the study using data from 1980 to 2008. Overall, the suicide rate fell on average by one per cent each year.
"However, when we analyze males and females a little bit further and by age group, we discovered that among male children and adolescents, the suicide rates are generally decreasing, while the suicide rates among the female children and adolescents are increasing," she said from Ottawa.
Suicide rates for girls aged 10 to 14 rose to 0.9 per 100,000 in 2008 from 0.6 per 100,000 in 1980. Rates for female teens aged 15 to 19 went up to 6.2 per 100,000 increased from 3.7 per 100,000 during the same period.
"One way of understanding this is that there's a little bit of convergence among males and females," Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, a psychiatrist at McGill University, said from Montreal.
In the past, females tended to make more suicide attempts than males, but males used more lethal means, so were more likely to die, he said.
"And the difference has had to do in part with kinds of attempts, but also with the methods that people use," Kirmayer said. Self-inflicted gunshots and deliberate drug overdoses, for instance, are less often used.
Skinner said suffocation is now the most common means of committing suicide, especially among young females. Deaths by hanging or other suffocation methods have risen by eight per cent per year on average for girls, while the use of firearms and poison decreased significantly.
The trend of suicide by suffocation occurring among younger ages also may partly be due to cases of the "choking game" being misclassified as suicides. The choking game involves various ways of depriving the brain of oxygen to induce a sense of euphoria.
But the researchers said they had no way of teasing out that information from their data.
The role of the Internet and social media also cannot be discounted when it comes to the risk of young people choosing to end their own lives.
"The term `cybersuicide' has evolved to describe the numerous websites, chat rooms and blogs promoting suicide and suicidal ideation," the authors write.
"It's so important in young Canadians' lives these days," Skinner said of social media. "It's a bit of a paradox because there are troubling websites out there. But some researchers point to the fact that at the same time, because children have such easy access to the Internet, it's an opportunity for prevention."
In a commentary accompanying the CMAJ study, Kirmayer agreed that the web provides information on both suicide and suicide prevention. But he said social and economic deprivation are likely greater drivers of high suicide rates in certain regions of the country.
The suicide rate for Aboriginal young people is three to five times higher than that for non-Aboriginal youth, and looking at regional differences might help address the issue among this group of Canadians, he said.
"And that's a big enough segment of society that a change in that pattern could affect the overall statistic," Kirmayer said. "We do know in aboriginal communities that girls do die by suicide at a higher rate than in the general population, and maybe more likely to use lethal means."
He said young people who have attempted to take their own lives often report feeling hopeless about having a meaningful or fulfilling future, he said. "They really don't see that they have any other way out from the misery they're feeling.
"The other thing for youth is a lot of those suicides, even though there's a backdrop of a lot of pain, the actual act is often impulsive. It often happens at a moment when the person's acutely distressed: they've just had a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend or some huge fight, sometimes when they're drinking."
But Kirmayer stressed there are health providers and organizations that can help young people find their way through that dark sense of despair and find strategies to improve their lives and their futures.
"If you can get people through the worst time, they will begin to see some light, some possibilities."