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April 19, 2014

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UNLV report finds child suicides on the rise in Clark County

The number of suicides among children in Clark County more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, according to a new study released Tuesday by UNLV's Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy.

There were 16 reported suicides among children younger than 18 in 2011, up from seven suicides in 2010. Fourteen-year-olds and 17-year-olds accounted for one-quarter of the Clark County child suicides in 2011.The youngest child suicide in 2011, according to the report, was a 10-year-old.

Clark County had 3.7 suicides per 100,000 children, compared to 1.3 per 100,000 nationally.

In 2011 the distribution between male and female suicide decedents was nearly equal– the highest proportion of female suicide deaths since the UNLV team started reporting data in 2006, according to the report.

Overall, the number of child deaths decreased from 251 to 237 in 2011, continuing a trend that has seen the number of deaths reduced by 23.8 percent since 2008.

Why the number of suicides among Clark County children is unclear, said Tara Phebus, director of the Nevada Institute for Research and Policy.

“We don’t have any good explanations for exactly why this happened,” she said.

None of the youths who died from suicide in Clark County in 2011 had a history with juvenile justice services and only one had a history of involvement with the child welfare system.

In two of the suicide cases in 2011 the child had a history of substance abuse. Nearly 20 percent of the 2011 suicide victims had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and in four cases a prior suicide attempt had been made, according to the report.

In all 2011 cases, the report said, the child was attending school regularly at the time of death. But, in three cases the child was experiencing school failure (as evidenced by their school records) and in six cases a suicide note was left by the decedent.

A firearm was involved in 11 of the 16 child suicide cases in 2011 suggesting that preventing access to weapons by children could help drive down suicides, Phebus said.

While parents and caretakers tend to be conscious of keeping guns out of the hands of young children, Phebus said more effort was needed to make sure teenagers, who make up the majority of child suicides, also don’t have access to weapons.

Researchers at UNLV have been reporting on child deaths for the past six years and use the information collection to help develop prevention techniques and education campaigns, Phebus said. All child deaths are reported by the Clark County Coroner’s Office and local hospitals and are then reviewed by the NICRP.

“What we try to do with the review is take a look at the fatality, look at the circumstances and see whether we can make recommendations for prevention,” Phebus said. “It helps to be able to understand what is happening, to look at these things over time and to be able to make recommendations on where we should direct resources.”

A decline in the number of drowning and accidental suffocation deaths among children shows that public education campaigns are working, she said.

Natural deaths – which include deaths from illness and congenital defects – make up the largest portion of child deaths in Clark County, with the vast majority occurring before the child is a year old.

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