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Nearly 18% of Preteens in ED Report Previous Suicide Attempt

April 01, 2019

Nearly a third of 10- to 12-year-olds who received care in an emergency department screened positive for suicide risk and almost 18% reported previous suicidal behavior, according to a study published online in the journal Hospital Pediatrics.

“Typically, suicidal thoughts and behaviors are seen in older teens,” said researcher Lisa Horowitz, PhD, MPH, a clinical scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health. “It was troubling to see that so many preteens screened positive for suicide risk, and we were alarmed to find that many of them had acted on their suicidal thoughts in the past.”

To explore the prevalence of positive screenings for suicide risk among preteens presenting in the emergency department, 79 children between the ages of 10 and 12 were screened at 3 large, urban pediatric hospitals using the 4-item Ask Suicide-Screening Questions and the 15-item Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire-JR. Among the children screened, 53.2% were at the emergency department for a physical health concern and 47% were there for a mental health concern.

Understanding Risk Factors to Help Prevent Suicide

Overall, 23 of the 79 preteens, or 29.1% of study participants, screened positive for suicide risk, researchers found. Among those presenting with a mental health concern, 54.1% screened positive for suicide risk. Among preteens with a physical health concern, 7.1% screened positive for suicide risk.

Furthermore, roughly 1 in 5 preteens, or 17.7% of the study population, had previously attempted suicide, according to the study.

“This study shows that children as young as 10 who show up in the emergency department may be thinking about suicide, and that screening all preteens—regardless of their presenting symptoms—may save lives,” Dr. Horowitz said. “Otherwise, they may pass through our medical systems undetected.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Lanzillo EC, Horowitz LM, Wharff EA, Sheftall AH, Pao M, Bridge JA. The importance of screening preteens for suicide risk in the emergency department. Hospital Pediatrics. 2019 March 11;[Epub ahead of print].

NIH study shows many preteens screen positive for suicide risk during ER visits [press release]. Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute of Mental Health; March 11, 2019.

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