Children of 12 attempting suicide, states report

CHILDREN as young as 12, particularly girls, are attempting suicide and inflicting deliberate self harm, new figures from the National Parasuicide Registry show.

Statistics contained in the registry’s annual report for 2002 show 17-year-old girls are most likely to try to harm themselves. One in every 140 17-year-old girls (706 per 100,000) in the country that attended hospital in 2002 had deliberately self harmed. A separate pilot study of schools in Cork and Kerry, among 15 to18-year-olds, revealed an even more alarming statistic of one in eight females deliberately self harming. Drug overdose was the most common method used followed by self cutting.

Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Helen Keeley, said parasuicide rates tended to be higher among females because they used “softer methods”. The outcome for males is more likely to be fatal.

“Boys use harder methods, it’s part of their risk-taking behaviour, it tends to be part of how they develop and they use methods that are more immediately lethal. Girls are inclined to use self-harm as a way of expressing distress.”

The authors of the study, Professor Ivan Perry and Paul Corcoran, director and deputy director of the National Suicide Research Foundation, said the high rate of deliberate self-harm in adolescent girls “posed a particular challenge for our health system, as individuals in this age group may fall between child and adult mental health services”.

The peak parasuicide rate for females was among 15 to 19-year-olds at 626 per 100,000, compared to an average of 237 per 100,000 across all age categories.

Nationally the female rate of parasuicide was 42% higher than the male rate, with Galway and Limerick city notable exceptions. In Galway city, the male and female rates were the same but in Limerick, men had parasuicide rate 157% higher than the national average, with younger men aged 20-34 most at risk.

Junior Health Minister Tim O’Malley, PD, whose constituency is Limerick East, said the figures were frightening.

“These figures are very high and show there is a problem out there in society. Obviously one of the major changes in society is the growing consumption of alcohol. It is obviously having an effect on parasuicide levels and we need to study this problem more and come up with more solutions.”

Alcohol was taken in 42% of all parasuicide episodes registered in 2002. Minor tranquillisers, paracetamol and anti-depressants were involved in 42%, 30% and 23% of deliberate overdoses, respectively.

Dr Keeley said the use of minor tranquillisers was particularly worrying.

“All the talk has been around SSRIs (anti-depressants) but the most commonly used drugs are valium and benzodiazepines which are too readily prescribed.”

Senator Kathleen O’Meara, Labour spokesperson for children, said there was clearly a need for more support for young people, “for whom life has become far more pressured, especially for teens”.

Dr Keeley said children needed to be able to confide in someone they could trust, “independent of the school hierarchy”. She said there was a dire shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds for adolescents, with just 20 nationally.

Approximately 8,400 individuals attempted suicide/deliberately self-harmed in 2002. One in five engaged in repeat acts.

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