Suicide deaths among imprisoned youth


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 10 to 24 years, and constitutes more than 17 percent of all deaths in this age group. In 2016, around 6,150 young people died of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The overall rate of deaths from suicide in this age group is 9.6 per 100,000.

According to a US Department of Justice survey, from 2000 to 2014, suicide rates were two to three times higher for detained teens compared to the general population.

In a new study published on American Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Academy Journal (JAACAP), researchers from the Nationwide Children's Hospital looked at the situation before suicide to better understand why differences in suicide rates exist.

"We have some ideas about what might be related to differences in suicide rates," said Donna Ruch, PhD, post-doctoral scientist at the Suicide Prevention and Research Center at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children. "But by using available data, we can uncover some surprising similarities and differences."

This study uses a nationally representative sample to examine the characteristics and conditions that cause suicide deaths among imprisoned adolescents. By mining data from the National Violence Death Reporting System from 2003 to 2012, the researchers compared data from adolescents aged 10 to 24 who died of suicide during detention with those who died of suicide in the general population.

The results showed that the main risk factors for suicide – a history of suicide attempts, a history of mental health conditions, and alcohol / drug use – did not differ significantly between the two groups.

"Youth who were jailed and died of suicide were no more likely to have mental health conditions than those who died of suicide in the community," said Dr. Ruch. "That surprised us. And that made us question whether there might be something about the environment that contributes to the increase in suicide." The main difference between groups was that imprisoned youth tended to reveal suicidal intentions (19.2 compared to 30.5 percent) or leave suicide notes (23.5 compared to 31.0 percent).

"The immediate surprise of confinement and disruption to a young man's ordinary life can be traumatic and increase the risk of suicidal behavior," Dr. Ruch. "This might be true especially for teenagers who are imprisoned with existing risk factors." According to the study, the advantage of hanging / suffocation as a suicide tool for imprisoned teens highlights the potential impact of greater innovation and attention to limiting access to ties and bonding points at correctional facilities.

Timely and ongoing assessments of suicide risk and the implementation of targeted suicide prevention programs for imprisoned adolescents are some practical recommendations from the study authors. According to the study, 93 percent of juvenile correctional facilities filter suicide risk only with intake, with re-screening only if "deemed necessary." In addition, addressing adequately the mental health needs of adolescents held in adult facilities is even more challenging, Dr. Ruch. The authors note that this study was not designed to address this problem.

"Our results support the need for improved safety planning, early detection of suicide risk, and suicide prevention interventions that are relevant to development for regulation," Dr. Ruch. "Our future work will include evaluation studies to support the development of effective programs for young people in prisons and research that further explain the risks, protective factors and triggers of suicide among these young people."


Reporting responsible suicide and the inclusion of stories of hope and resilience can prevent more suicide. You can find more information about safe messaging about suicide here. If you feel like committing suicide, please talk to someone. You can reach the Lifeline National Lifeline Prevention at 1-800-273-8255 or send the "START" text to Text Line Crisis at 741-741.

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