Expert panel calls for action to prevent suicides among teenagers, after high number in past year

A committee of experts convened to review child deaths in King County is calling for action to prevent suicides among teenagers, after a high number of youth suicides in 2012.

A committee of experts convened to review child deaths in King County is calling for action to prevent suicides among teenagers, after a high number of youth suicides in 2012.

Last year, eleven children died by suicide, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s office. That compares to four suicides in an average year among children younger than 18 years of age. Of those eleven suicides, five were by firearm, five by hanging, and one by jumping.

In recent years, the highest number of youth suicides in any one year had been seven, based on a review of data from 1999 to the present. While the numbers do not represent a statistical trend, the suicides are worrisome.

“As a community, it’s our duty to protect children from all forms of violence, including violence that is self-inflicted,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“Suicide is a tragic and preventable public health problem,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “It calls for a comprehensive approach, so that we make sure all young people get the treatment they need, and we limit access to dangers such as guns and drugs.”

The King County Child Death Review (CDR) Committee, comprised of 37 people representing numerous agencies and communities, recently reviewed in-depth the circumstances of six suicide deaths from 2012, as well as data from prior years, to make recommendations for action and future prevention.

Recommendations from the CDR Committee include:

  • Increasing public awareness about the warning signs of suicide and risk factors for suicidal behavior and available crisis response resources.
  • Educating families and communities about the importance and methods for safe firearm storage.
  • Advocating for other methods that restrict access to lethal means, such as secure medicine return programs and safe firearm storage legislation.
  • Encouraging strong implementation of House Bill 1336, which took effect July 28, 2013. It requires suicide risk and referral training for school providers and teachers, and it also requires school districts and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop plans to recognize and respond to troubled youth.
  • Assuring medical and mental health care providers are trained to screen children for suicide and mental health risk factors and able to connect youth to resources or treatment.

The CDR committee includes members from health care, government agencies, law enforcement, fire departments, schools, community groups and others. The committee reviews the circumstances of preventable child deaths in King County, including suicides, and uses the information to take action to prevent future deaths.

“Suicide is everyone’s business. When young people and their families, teachers, health care providers, and other connected adults have the tools and skills to identify and respond to suicide risk, we can work together to save young people’s lives,” said Victoria Wagner, Executive Director of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, a statewide non-profit organization based in King County.

According to the 2012 Healthy Youth survey data, an estimated 11,600 King County high school students (14 percent of students) indicated that in the prior 12 months they had made a plan of how to attempt suicide.

“Youth suicide is often an impulsive action with permanent consequences,” said Dr. Karen Milman, Prevention Division Director, Public Health – Seattle & King County.  “We can help save lives by making it harder for King County youth to access lethal means, including firearms.”

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