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"Our findings suggest that community poverty is a serious risk factor for youth suicide, which should help target prevention efforts," said lead study author Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann. She is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
For the study, Hoffmann and her colleagues analyzed federal government data on suicides in children and teens aged 5 to 19 that occurred from 2007 to 2016.
They identified nearly 21,000 suicides in this age group, which works out to an annual suicide rate of 3.4/100,000 children. The majority of these suicides (85%) were among teens aged 15 to 19. Males accounted for 76% of the suicides, and whites for 69%.
Children and teens in U.S. counties where 20% or more of the population lives below the federal poverty level were 37% more likely to die by suicide than those in counties with the lowest poverty concentration.
Youth suicide by guns was 87% more likely in areas with the highest poverty levels, according to the study published Jan. 27 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
"Of particular concern is youth suicide using firearms, which occurred at significantly higher rates in high-poverty communities," Hoffmann said in a hospital news release.
Youth suicide in the United States has nearly doubled in the past decade, making it the second leading cause of death among youths aged 10 to 19.
"More research is needed to understand the poverty-related factors that might increase suicide risk among children and adolescents so that we can develop more effective interventions," Hoffmann said.
"Meanwhile, parents should not be afraid to talk openly with their kids about mental health and potential thoughts of suicide. This decreases stigma and may help the child get help before it's too late," she said.
-- Robert Preidt
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