Isabel TeotonioThe Toronto Star
Date Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
View printable version
Suicide rates are on the rise among girls and female adolescents, but have declined among males of the same age, according to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Researchers from the Public Health Agency of Canada analyzed mortality data from Statistics Canada between 1980 and 2008 to study patterns among those aged 10-19 who committed suicide. While the suicide rate decreased about 1 per cent each year, there were variations by age and sex.
The study also noted that suffocation, which includes hanging and strangulation, has become the leading method of suicide among children and teens. By comparison, the use of firearms and poisoning decreased significantly.
“In order to fix and prevent suicide we need to understand what the situation is and what the situation is among males and females,” said senior epidemiologist Robin Skinner, who co-authored the study with Steven McFaull.
“(We want) to provide an overview of the situation and feed that into future studies that can help come up with more prevention strategies,” Skinner told the Toronto Star.
The growing trend of suffocation among children, aged 10-14, may be partly the result of kids playing the “choking game,” whose deaths are misclassified as suicides. The game, which can turn deadly, involves self-induced asphyxiation, which deprives the brain of oxygen to induce a euphoric effect.
Also disturbing, note the authors, is the existence of pro-suicide or cybersuicide sites online, which rank different suicide methods by their effectiveness, pain involved and the length of time it takes to kill oneself.
The study comes at a time when teenage suicide is garnering headlines. Last week, it was reported that three students at Brampton’s Sandalwood Heights Secondary School have committed suicide since November.
And on Friday, the documentary Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch, will open in Toronto. The critically acclaimed film follows five American families and addresses how schoolyard bullying and the anguish that some teens inflict upon others is prompting youngsters to take their own lives.
According to the study, in 2008 there were 233 suicides in young Canadians — 156 were male and 77 were female — accounting for 20 per cent of all deaths among those aged 10-19. In sharp contrast, suicide accounted for 1.5 per cent of all deaths in Canada that same year.
Suicide rates among boys (aged 10-14) showed no significant change during the 29-year period of the study. But among male adolescents (aged 15-19) there was a decreasing trend to 12.1 per 100,000 in 2008 from 19 per 100,000 in 1980.
Rates among girls (aged 10-14) increased to 0.9 per 100,000 in 2008 from 0.6 per 100,000 in 1980. Among female adolescents (aged 15-19) suicide rates jumped to 6.2 per 100,000 from 3.7 per 100,000.
The study doesn’t go into great detail about why young Canadians are committing suicide, but the authors note some of the complex risk factors, including depression, substance abuse, relationships and bullying.
Suicide is the second most common cause of death among Canadians in this age group. The number one cause of death in Canada is from accidents, or unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, or drownings.
But Skinner noted that rates of unintentional injuries among young Canadians decreased substantially over the past three decades, but suicide rates showed less change.
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)