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Suicide among females 10-19 up slightly, but down for males of same age: study

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.

“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.

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 Canadians of all ages.

Skinner said suffocation is now the most common means of committing suicide, especially among young females. Death by hanging and other suffocation methods has risen by eight per cent per year on average for girls, while the use of guns and poison decreased significantly.

The trend of suicide by suffocation occurring among younger ages may be partly 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 authors write.

“The term ‘cybersuicide’ has evolved to describe the numerous websites, chat rooms and blogs promoting suicide and suicidal ideation. Such sites are obviously troubling; yet, paradoxically, the Internet and social media also hold potential benefits for the prevention of suicide.”

In a related CMAJ commentary, psychiatrist Dr. Laurence Kirmayer of McGill University in Montreal agreed that while the web provides information on both suicide and suicide prevention, social and economic deprivation are likely greater drivers of elevated suicide rates in various regions of the country.

“Economic inequities may expose young people to a wide range of stressors and negative life events in their families and communities, as well as diminish their own hopes and expectations for a positive future with meaningful opportunities for work and life,” writes Kirmayer.

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.

“Understanding the impact of these larger social determinants on young people’s identities, resilience and well-being may hold the key to further reductions in suicide in the years to come.”