New study shines a light on likely suicide among children and young people in England
14 October 2021
A new report led by University of Bristol academics has identified that 108 young people in England died under circumstances that were assessed as highly or moderately likely to be due to suicide between 2019 and 2020. The analysis, led by the University of Bristol’s National Child Mortality Database [NCMD] programme, which gathers comprehensive information on all children who die in England below the age of 18 years with the aim of identifying ways that could help reduce them in future, is published today [14 Oct].
The study funded by NHS England sought to gain new insight into suicide among young people by examining the characteristics and contributing factors of 199 child deaths that were either reported or reviewed between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 in England.
The deaths of 108 young people were identified as highly or moderately likely to have been by suicide, with further analyses showing that it is not limited to certain groups; rates of suicide were shown to be similar across all areas and regions in England, including urban and rural environments, and across deprived and affluent neighbourhoods.
Many of the young people whose deaths were reviewed had endured difficult circumstances prior to their passing. These included 62 per cent had suffered a significant personal loss such as a bereavement or the breakdown of a close relationship, and almost a quarter (23 per cent) had experienced bullying.
The report includes a number of recommendations that could help prevent suicide, including ensuring that all frontline staff have suicide prevention training and that there is continued roll out of children and young people’s mental health services across community settings including schools, local authorities and the criminal justice system.
Professor Karen Luyt, NCMD Programme Lead and Professor in Neonatal Medicine at the University of Bristol, said: “Our report is based on the comprehensive, multi-agency child death reviews performed by Child Death Overview Panels. These contemporary data give the complete picture of antecedent factors in the lives of children and young people who died by suicide in England.”
Louis Appleby, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group for England, added: “To inform prevention we need evidence. Suicide is complex, rarely caused by one thing, and suicide prevention is also complex. We need to understand who is at risk and when, the stresses and settings, and the response of services. This new report adds to our understanding by examining the individual tragedies. It shows how varied the circumstances can be.”
While these findings demonstrate that we can better understand and derive learning if we pool information, it is important to recognise that no two deaths are the same. The authors of this report wish to acknowledge that the death of each child is a devastating loss that profoundly affects bereaved parents as well as siblings, grandparents, extended family members, friends and professionals. They also wish to thank all the families who shared their data and experiences, and the Child Death Overview Panels who submit detailed evidence on every death to the database.
‘Suicide in Children & Young People‘ by Vicky Sleap et al published online.
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PAPYRUS operates HOPELINEUK, a confidential support and advice service for children and young people under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned for a young person who might be you can contact HOPELINEUK for confidential support and practical advice on 0800 068 4141.
If you need help during a mental health crisis or emergency, NHS urgent mental health helplines provide 24-hour advice and support for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for, help to speak to a mental health professional, and an assessment to help decide on the best course of care. Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline here.
About the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD)
The National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) was established on 1 April 2018 with the aim of reducing premature mortality by collecting and analysing data on all deaths in children in England, aged between birth and their 18th birthday. Initially a four-year project, commissioned by Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) on behalf of NHS England, it is led by the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) at University of Oxford, UCL Partners and the software company QES.
In addition, the programme benefits from the involvement of charity partners: The Lullaby Trust, Sands and Child Bereavement UK. The research team work closely with Child Death Overview Panels (CDOPs), which implement the Child Death Review process, and review all child deaths in England.